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Immigration Law

States Are Divided by the Lines They Draw on Immigration

"Washington has long allowed immigrants without legal status to get driver’s licenses. So Ofelia Rosas Ramos, a Mexican living illegally in Seattle, has had her license since 2008.

“That is one of the big advantages of this state,” said Ms. Rosas, 31, whose 4-year-old daughter, an American citizen, has severe allergies. “If I have to rush her to the hospital,” Ms. Rosas said, “having a license, I don’t have to worry that I will be stopped by police and reported.”

Life is very different for Camila Trujillo, a Colombian immigrant living in Katy, Tex. Since Texas requires a Social Security number for a license, Ms. Trujillo, 21, drives to college and work without one.

“You can get pulled over for the smallest thing,” she said, and a police stop could spiral into deportation. “It’s frustrating and sad. We are not criminals. We want to live the American dream.”

This is immigration geography: Some states are reluctant to accept undocumented immigrants, while others are moving to incorporate them. And the polarization is sharply crystallized in a lawsuit by Texas and 25 other states against the executive actions by President Obama to give work permits and deportation protection to millions of undocumented immigrants.

“This case has brought the differences to the surface so vividly because it caused the states to pick sides,” said Roberto Suro, a University of Southern California professor who studies immigration.

Interactive Graphic: Which States Make Life Easier or Harder For Unauthorized Immigrants

Texas and its allies — among them Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Montana and Nevada — say they would be irreparably harmed if the initiatives took effect. Texas, with 825,000 eligible residents, said in the lawsuit that it would have to issue new driver’s and law licenses, and pay unemployment benefits — “injuries” that would be hard to undo if the courts ultimately found the president’s actions unconstitutional.

But in its legal papers, Washington cited “overwhelming evidence” that the programs would bring a host of benefits, raising wages for all workers and swelling tax revenues. It is leading a coalition of 14 states and the District of Columbia that is asking the courts to allow the programs to begin.

Those conflicting views could have a significant impact at the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, where the administration has filed a request to cancel a federal judge’s ruling in Texas that stopped the president’s actions, or to at least allow the initiatives to go forward in the states that agree with them.

The four million immigrants who would be eligible for Mr. Obama’s programs are about evenly split between the opposing coalitions. The court set a hearing for April 17.

Beyond the legal papers, though, the case has highlighted how the divisive politics of immigration have created vastly varying realities for unauthorized immigrants from one state to another." - Julia Preston, New York Times, Mar. 30, 2015.