PRESS RELEASE | CMS Releases Analysis on the New Dynamism in Immigration Federalism

PRESS RELEASE | CMS Releases Analysis on the New Dynamism in Immigration Federalism

New York, NY— The Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) today released a paper analyzing the increasingly dynamic interaction between states, localities and the federal government in the formulation and implementation of immigration policy. The paper is titled “California Dreaming: The New Dynamism in Immigration Federalism and Opportunities for Inclusion on a Variegated Landscape.” It is authored by Roberto Suro, professor of journalism and social policy and director of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California.

The paper reviews immigration policy developments over the last twenty years that have led to a patchwork of policies, determined by a mix of local, state and federal directives rather than a single federal policy set in Washington, DC. It contends that the 1994 passage of Proposition 187 in California marked the beginning of a new era of immigration federalism characterized by increasingly broad distribution of powers across all levels of government and wide variations in immigration regimes and practices. In some cases, sub-federal governments have adopted enforcement regimes meant to heighten the impact of federal exclusion. Other state and local governments have enacted welcoming policies that expand the potential for civic inclusion of immigrants regardless of status. As Suro observes:

At the start of 2015 in California, home to a quarter of all foreign-born in the United States including some 2.5 million unauthorized immigrants, an individual regarded as out-of-status by federal standards can get a driver’s license, apply for a number of health and welfare programs, go to a state university and pay in-state tuition and practice law. Meanwhile, across the state line in Arizona the same person would be subject to the “show-me-your-papers” provision of SB 1070 which the Supreme Court let stand. They would also be subject to state regulations that could turn any contact with a state agency into an encounter with a federal agent and any prospective employer would be obliged to check the individual’s identity against a federal database.

Suro argues that local and state initiatives, as in California, serve to mitigate the effect of federal immigration laws and regulations, shaping the practical consequences of lack of status. “Suro has produced a groundbreaking analysis on the status of US immigration and integration policies following years of Congressional inaction on many of our nation’s most pressing immigration-related issues,” said Donald Kerwin, CMS Executive Director. “He describes a varied and politically responsive landscape in which unauthorized immigrants are treated quite differently from state-to-state and locality to locality. He argues convincingly that immigration federalism is here to stay.”

“California Dreaming: The New Dynamism in Immigration Federalism and Opportunities for Inclusion on a Variegated Landscape,” is now available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/233150241500300101.

It is one in a series of studies published in Journal on Migration and Human Security by CMS that explore various aspects of unauthorized migration. Recent papers in the series have covered: (1) new estimates on the unauthorized and the development of a database that will allow a broad cross-section of users to search the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data on legal and unauthorized non-citizens and (2) the findings of a national survey of community-based legal service providers, which estimates the percentage of unauthorized persons that may be eligible for permanent immigration status/relief, even without federal legislation or executive action.

Interviews are available upon request by contacting Rachel Reyes at (212) 337-3080 x. 7012 or [email protected].

The series was made possible through the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


The Center for Migration Studies (CMS) is a New York-based educational institute devoted to the study of international migration, to the promotion of understanding between immigrants and receiving communities, and to public policies that safeguard the dignity and rights of migrants and newcomers. For more information, please visit www.cmsny.org.