Despite a landmark comprehensive immigration reform bill that cleared the Senate in June, a corresponding bill that addresses the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the United States has yet to come to a vote in the House. In fact, the only immigration-related bill that House members brought to a floor vote was a measure to pave the way for deporting undocumented immigrants between the ages of 16 and 31. But although the year ended without a victory on the greatest potential avenue for reform through a bill in Congress, the immigration reform movement achieved other crucial victories in 2013. Here are eight:
1. Driver’s licenses and state tuition: In 2012, only three states granted driver’s licenses to the undocumented. Now, 11 states — California, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon, Maryland, Vermont, Colorado, and Connecticut — and the District of Columbia have passed legislation that allows the undocumented to legally drive.Studies show that giving driver’s licenses to unlicensed drivers, a category that includes many undocumented immigrants, would vastly improve public safety because drivers would have to pass a test before they obtain a license and buy auto insurance. This year, Colorado, Minnesota, and Oregon also passed laws that permit in-state tuition for undocumented students.
2. Key anti-immigrant research discredited: The Heritage Foundation published a report in April that reform opponents hoped to use against the Senate bill. The paper, which argued that immigration reform would be a $6.3 trillion burden on the economy, was immediately slammed by Republicans, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, American Action Forum, and the libertarian CATO Institute for its dishonest methodology. Soon after, co-author Jason Richwine resigned from Heritage over his controversial Harvard University thesis that argued Hispanics are less intelligent. A report that once was the opponents’ powerful weapon during debates on reform was now seen as widely discredited.
3. Local and state anti-immigrant laws blocked: In Arizona, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals upheld a district court’s preliminary injunction on a key provision of the state’s controversial anti-immigrant law which would have made it illegal to give rides or provide shelter to undocumented immigrants. The opinion called the statute “incomprehensible to a person of ordinary intelligence and is therefore void for vagueness.”
Alabama passed the nation’s strictest immigration law in 2011, modeled after ALEC’s “No Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act.” Key provisions of HB 56 designed to encourage racial profiling and make immigrants’ daily lives difficult to impossible, have been permanently blocked. The final legal settlement this fall with the Justice Department, civil rights groups, and plaintiffs prevents the worst of the law, which barred school enrollment, business, and daily interaction with undocumented immigrants.