States and cities are taking immigration reform into their own hands. With prospects for comprehensive legislation bleak in Washington, local governments have begun making decisions about who gets deported and who doesn’t by refusing to participate in a system that has come to rely on them. After a few years of slow but steady progress, local reform is now taking off.
In the last three weeks, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Denver, and counties in Oregon, Colorado, Washington, and California have announced they will no longer help federal immigration police carry out deportations. These decisions, spurred by recent federal-court rulings, add to the growing chorus of state and local governments that have recently backed away from the deportation system: dozens of major cities and counties, two states, and counting.
This movement is a big deal, because local jails have become the frontline for immigration enforcement during the Obama Administration. As the wait for administrative action from the White House continues, local resistance is already stopping thousands of deportations every month. Even if Congress is able to pass a comprehensive reform bill, the current wave of local policy changes and judicial decisions will have altered the structure of immigration enforcement by making it much harder for federal officials to rely on local police and sheriffs. National reform is still crucial. But once you understand the depths of federal-local collaboration—and the recent pattern of resistance—it’s clear that the backbone of the immigration-enforcement dragnet is starting to weaken. Pushback is coming from places with some of the largest undocumented populations, and yet many outside the immigration policy world have overlooked it.