Madison White

The debate over state and federal governmental powers, marijuana legalization, civil rights, and immigration law has been around as long as our country, and immigration exemplifies how an overarching federal policy can be interpreted in different states.

Immigration is primarily regulated at the federal level, leaving little for the states to interpret about the legality of immigrants. However, state legislatures have passed laws throughout the country, varying how immigration policy is operationalized. These laws are highly contested because ultimately, federal law is supreme and states must ensure they are not overstepping boundaries. 

The federal government requires employers to verify prospective employee’s eligibility to work in the United States. All employees are required to fill out an I-9 form within three days of being hired, which gives basic information and proof of citizenship or documentation of employment eligibility, such as a green card or work visa. 

E-Verify is an online database used by employers to check employability status supplied by the federal government. The federal government classifies E-Verify as voluntary, but 20 states currently require at least partial use for both public and private employment. California, on the other hand, has prohibited municipalities, counties, and other state government entities from making its use mandatory. Private employers are welcome to use it but are not mandated.

Starting in 2015, the California Assembly Bill 60 (AB-60) allows undocumented Americans access to a driver’s license so long as they can provide proof of identity and residency within the state. Previously, California driver’s licenses were only available to those who could provide proof of citizenship in the United States, typically through a social security number. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, it is only for driving purposes and cannot be used as a regular form of identification. Currently, twelve states and the District of Columbia offer a similar process in the hopes that undocumented immigrants will insure their vehicles and pass driver’s license tests.

The American Immigration Council states that approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school every year, but only about 6,500 go on to college. Undocumented students are not eligible for federal funding for college, like FAFSA, Pell Grant, and work-study, making college difficult to afford for many.

While most states also prohibit undocumented students from receiving state funds, California has given undocumented students who can prove residency in-state tuition at public universities and state funding. Here at Whittier, undocumented students are able to pursue exception funding since they are not eligible for federal work-study.

Immigration is often assumed to be a one-dimensional topic, but there are so many factors that go into immigrating. Many undocumented immigrants living in the United States are unaware of the diverse laws that may or many apply to them based on what state they reside in.