According to the Associated Press, newly elected Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee rescinded an executive order of his predecessor on January 5 under which Rhode Island state troopers would have gotten involved in immigration enforcement. The governor is to be commended for this action.
Proposals are proliferating at the state level that would pander to anti-immigration sentiment by purporting to “crack down” on illegal immigration. Although one must sympathize with the temptation that state-level politicians face to act in order to fill the void left by the failure of Congress to fulfill its responsibilities in this area, these proposals are, as Gov. Chafee said, divisive without promising to deliver any concrete benefits.
While politicians in some states trumpet their anti-immigration credentials, other states are quietly acting to enhance immigration’s contributions to the economic competitiveness of their states. Among other actions, they are working to attract talented international students and scholars to their universities in order to increase the pool of skilled manpower in their states and foster cutting-edge research at their universities. Gov. Chafee said, “My view is that Rhode Island can grow economically by being a tolerant place to do business. The immigrant-rich areas, I want to see them prosper.” That is what forward-looking states, which seek to enhance the prosperity of their citizens, are doing. It doesn't get the headlines, but it’s the right thing to do.
Anti-immigration sentiment is rampant in this country right now, abetted by politicians who find it convenient to cater to it. But the reality is that immigration is essential to future U.S. competitiveness and prosperity. Making immigration work for us requires a great deal more than more troops and higher walls. Genuine political leaders recognize this and have the courage to stand up and say it. Gov. Chafee is among them.
The Governor, a former Republican Senator, harkens back to the days when Republicans were willing to enter into bipartisan coalitions in support of immigration reform. For the sake of our country, we must get back to those days. Congress must act. While Congress musters its courage, responsible leaders at the state and municipal levels must show the way.