Immigration expert says Michigan governor’s proposal shows the key role of state and local officials

Law professor Rick Su teaching in a classroom in O'Brian Hall.

More local and state input is needed in immigration policy, says UB law professor Rick Su. (Photo: Douglas Lavere)

Governor’s idea would open Detroit to 50,000 immigrant visas in the next five years

Release Date: January 24, 2014

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UB immigration law professor Rick Su in the classroom in O'Brian Hall.

Rick Su

“Immigration policy is established at the federal level, but the impact of those policies, and immigration more generally, vary from state to state, locality to locality.”
Rick Su, associate professor of law
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's proposal that the federal government grant 50,000 visas to immigrants willing to settle and work in Detroit shows, once again, that some of the most innovative and creative ideas about immigration are coming from the state and local levels, according to Rick T. Su, an expert on immigration law and associate professor of law at the University at Buffalo Law School.

Snyder’s recommendation, seen as a relatively open and accepting policy in the immigration debate, proves the national government’s current “one-size-fits-all” approach to immigration policy making is a mistake, according to Su.

“Immigration policy is established at the federal level,” Su says. “But the impact of those policies, and immigration more generally, vary from state to state, locality to locality.

“The current uniform national immigration policy simply does not account for this reality.”   

Because all of the nation’s immigration policy is centralized in Washington, D.C., there is not much room for state and local input, according to Su. And this ignores the valuable creativity and innovation coming from state and local municipalities closely aware of their particular immigration situation. The Detroit proposal is an excellent example of how these local governments can offer valuable suggestions and solutions, based on individual needs and circumstances.

“Countries like Canada are already starting to decentralize immigration policy-making by allowing for a greater provincial role,” says Su. “Instead of continuing to exclude states and localities from the political negotiation over immigration, federal policymakers would do well to formally include them in the process.”

The Michigan governor’s proposal asked President Obama to set aside 50,000 work visas over the next five years to attract talented immigrants to live and work in bankrupt Detroit. Snyder says his immigration proposal sends the message that “Detroit is open to the world.”

The proposal follows two other pro-immigration plans Snyder proposed last week. He opened an Office for New Americans to attract and help immigrants better adjust to life in Michigan, and then designated his state as a center to expedite visas and permits for immigrants who want to open businesses in the state with investments of at least $500,000 and 10 employees.

These proposals are exactly the kind of local, innovative thinking that addresses immigration according to regional needs rather than a blanket policy set in Washington, D.C., ignoring specific circumstances, according to Su.

Su has been interviewed extensively on immigration in recent years, often expressing his views that the most important changes in immigration follow state laws and local reaction to national mandates, not comprehensive national law.

Su’s research paper “Immigration as Urban Policy” published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal is available here.

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