Across the United States, state and federal officials acting out of concern for national security are applying post-9/11 measures in a way that affects a broad cross-section of illegal and legal immigrants, the New York Times reports. A new Virgina law, one of many intended to increase security since Sept. 11, 2001, is squeezing legal and illegal immigrants alike – and not only those from Arab and Muslim nations viewed as potential sources of terrorists.
Last month, officials tightened rules that require applicants to prove they have residences in the state; come January, anyone who cannot prove he or she is in Virginia legally will not qualify for a license. West Virginia and Utah have recently enacted laws that will prevent or make it difficult for illegal immigrants to get licenses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Legislators in Georgia blocked a measure that would have eased such rules. All told, more than a dozen states have considered such legislation this year, sending waves of anxiety coursing through Hispanic and Asian communities.
In Texas, social service agencies say some Mexican and Asian illegal immigrants have responded to the pressure by burrowing deeper underground – closing bank accounts and declining to report incidents of domestic violence. People are said to be increasingly fearful of attracting attention from the local police, whose powers in some jurisdictions are being increased by the new measures.
Last month, for instance, about 600 Alabama state police officers sat down for their first classes in civil immigration law. By the end of the year, officials say, a small team of local police officers there will have the power to arrest illegal immigrants for the first time in recent memory. Officials at the Department of Homeland Security say other states have also expressed interest in using local police officers to enforce civil immigration laws, but declined to identify them, saying the discussions were still preliminary.
In California, hundreds of Hispanic and Asian legal immigrants who worked as baggage screeners in airports are still struggling to make ends meet six months after losing their jobs because of a federal law requiring such employees to be American citizens.
Federal agents conducting security sweeps of airports across the country say they have arrested nearly 1,000 undocumented workers, including many Hispanics and Asians who had been hired to sweep floors and serve food.