Suffolk County Not Authorized to Pass Anti-Immigrant Law, NYCLU Testifies

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
August 22, 2006 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — The New York Civil Liberties Union expressed strong opposition today to anti-immigrant legislation that is under consideration before the Suffolk County Legislature. The NYCLU testified that the law would foster rampant discrimination and would violate the constitutional principle that local government cannot override federal law.

“The legislature is proposing to create law based on prejudice and hostility toward immigrants, not sound policy,” said NYCLU Legislative Counsel Udi Ofer, who presented today’s testimony. “Suffolk County does not have the power to make its own immigration laws. And the proposed legislation would lead employers to discriminate against anyone who they perceived as foreign, regardless of that person’s actual citizenship status.”

Under the federal system of government, the national government maintains the sole authority to regulate immigration. The Constitution prohibits local government entities from enacting laws that impose different requirements and sanctions from those imposed by the federal government. It does so in the interest of uniformity and to avoid creating a patchwork of rules that would be unfair and inefficient.

“The legislature should recognize that the proposed legislation is outside of its authority, and it should vote accordingly,” said Dolores Bilges, Director of the Suffolk County Chapter of the NYCLU.

Suffolk County’s proposed law conflicts with existing federal law that sets carefully considered standards as to who is an immigrant and how workers can prove that they are authorized to work in the United States. For instance, if the proposed legislation passed, military personnel, who under federal law may use a U.S. Military Card to establish their identity, would not be allowed to do so in Suffolk County. Similarly, Native Americans would no longer be notified that they can use tribal documents to establish employment eligibility.

“Introductory Resolution 2025 tries to intervene in an impassioned national debate over the reform of federal immigration law,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director. “Suffolk County residents should make their feelings known through public expression and by lobbying their elected officials in Congress. But their county legislature has no right to try to resolve the debate itself by implementing its own unauthorized and discriminatory law.”

The NYCLU’s testimony is online at: www.nyclu.org/immigrants_rights_tstmny_082206.html

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