Op-Ed: Court Ruling on Immigration a Huge Blow to New Jersey

This op-ed appeared in the November 12, 2015 edition of the Star-Ledger.

NJPP Op-EdA federal court’s ruling against President Obama’s 2014 executive actions on immigration represents a big step backward, and the triumph of the politics of fear over pragmatic solutions. While the ruling, handed down Monday, will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, in the meantime the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans hang in the balance.

More than 200,000 undocumented New Jerseyans, and nearly 5 million people nationwide, won’t be able to obtain crucial work permits and have protection from deportation thanks to the Fifth Circuit’s ruling. As a result, these Garden State residents will remain in the shadows, unable to fully contribute to the state’s economy and unable to live a life without constant fear. And New Jersey loses out on the economic benefits these policies would bring as well.

Despite the rhetoric, the president’s actions were a few small but workable steps forward – ones that should have received broad bipartisan support. They would have allowed many parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, as well as more young people who came to the U.S. before they were 16, to apply for work authorization and protection from deportation. This policy approach was not the much-discussed “path to citizenship,” nor would it have opened up state or federal government benefits to these immigrants.

Yet leaders from 26 states chose to block the president simply because he took action without Congress. And Gov. Christie backed them up, filing a legal brief in support of their efforts. The opponents hinged their legal case on the dubious claim that the president’s actions would cause fiscal harm to the states, which would be tasked with issuing driver’s licenses to eligible and interested immigrants. This narrow argument fails to account for the fact that states could easily increase the cost of licenses to cover the new expenses. But more importantly it completely ignores the fact that the executive actions would actually boost – not depress – state revenues.

In fact, New Jersey would collect more taxes under this executive action on immigration. Currently, undocumented residents are paying $613 million a year in state and local taxes – a number that would increase by $29 million under the Obama administration’s executive actions. This is the seventh largest bump of the 50 states, reinforcing how much New Jersey has to gain from efforts to make the country’s immigration system more pragmatic.

This further proves that New Jersey’s undocumented residents play a large part in the state’s economy – and that policy changes should recognize and take advantage of that fact. Rather than restricting and stigmatizing this population, we should be integrating them into the economic and social fabric of our state.

In the end, the case against these immigration reforms amount to little more than obstruction, and derails common-sense policies that work. It stifles economic opportunity and ensures that New Jersey families will continue to fear being torn apart by deportation.

New Jersey has one of the largest undocumented populations and workforces in the nation. We need policies that will allow these neighbors to participate legally in society in order for them to have an equal opportunity to succeed and invest in the state they call home.

Our governor has taken the side in the immigration debate that puts the emphasis on deportation of up to 11.5 million undocumented residents. This impractical position will only harm New Jersey and its economy by preventing these residents from participating more fully without fear in our schools, community, and local economies. The bottom line: The Fifth Circuit Court ruling is a huge blow to New Jersey.