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By Jake Grovum, Stateline.org

WASHINGTON — With federal immigration bills stalled on Capitol Hill, many states are charging ahead on their own to open doors to unauthorized immigrants, from allowing them to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities, to giving them driver’s licenses and providing them with welfare or Medicaid benefits.

Sixteen states now offer in-state tuition rates to students who are in the country illegally and at least four other states (Hawaii, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island) seem to be moving in that direction, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Unauthorized immigrants can now get driver’s licenses in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Just five years ago, no state issued the licenses.

Other states are pursuing smaller, yet still significant, measures to make life easier for unauthorized immigrants and draw them out of the shadows. Some of the proposals would allow them to vote in state elections and even run for office, while others are looking to smooth immigration-related problems in foster care programs, for example.

It’s all part of a trend of states moving away from the enforcement-focused immigration laws that took hold after the 2010 elections, most notably in Arizona, which pushed local law enforcement to check the status of people suspected of being in the country illegally. Courts have largely blocked enforcement of the Arizona law.

One measure of the momentum is that some Republicans are getting on board. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who took a hard line on illegal immigration during his campaign in 2010, signed a bill this year to offer unauthorized students in-state tuition. Last year, Nevada’s Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a driver’s license law, which cleared the Democratic-controlled legislature.

“It seems like it’s becoming more widely accepted across political lines that it makes sense to invest in immigrants who live and work in our communities,” said Tanya Broder of the National Immigration Law Center, an immigrant advocacy group.

Washington state Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, a Democrat who co-chairs the NCSL immigration task force, said states are filling the vacuum left by Congress.

“Without federal action states are really focusing in on what is the specific nature of immigration or immigrant integration policy that resonates or that is a priority at home,” she said. Santos is worried, however, that the recent influx of Central American children on the U.S.-Mexico border could reverse the trend. “It does make me concerned that we may see a resurgence of border security proposals,” she said.

Few states have gone as far as Democratic-dominated California in aiding unauthorized immigrants. For example, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed a law directing child welfare courts and agency workers not to let a potential guardian’s citizenship status stand in the way of placing a child in the guardian’s care.

Previously, courts or social workers across California handled the issue inconsistently, sometimes placing children with noncitizen guardians, other times seeing immigration status as a roadblock, said Phil Ladew, legal director at the California CASA Association, whose members serve as court-appointed advocates for children in the foster care system.

“When you do that, and you have a system that’s overburdened, time passes and after a year the child is still in foster care, then you just threw a grenade into the entire family,” Ladew said. “This is getting back to that notion that in the first instance you need to keep the child with that family.”

In 2012, Brown signed another measure designed to keep immigrant families together. Under the Immigrant Family Reunification Act, immigrant parents who have been placed in immigration custody or deported now have an additional six months to meet the requirements of the courts for family reunification. The bill also allows children who cannot be reunited with their parents to be placed under custody of a relative without taking into consideration the relative’s legal status.

For years, many California cities have been “sanctuary cities,” offering assistance and protection to undocumented immigrants. And California is one of four states (New Mexico, Texas, and Washington are the others) to offer state financial aid to unauthorized immigrants, in stark contrast to those states where even offering discounted in-state tuition rates paid by all other residents remains a political nonstarter.

New York state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat from the Bronx, last month introduced what might be the most sweeping state-based immigration measure in the country. Under the New York is Home Act, New York could declare both documented and undocumented immigrants citizens of the state, regardless of federal immigration status.

The measure would make unauthorized immigrants eligible to participate in most aspects of civic life, from voting in state elections and serving on juries to holding public office, earning professional licenses and enrolling in safety-net programs such as Medicaid.

“There has not been a proposal that is this broad and this comprehensive,” Rivera said. “The purpose of this bill is to recognize that there are people who are already contributing.”

While the measure has limits — applicants would have to prove their identity and that they have lived in the state and paid taxes for the previous three years — it has garnered plenty of skeptical and negative headlines. Even Rivera sees a long road ahead before it would become law, although he’s already in contact with interested lawmakers in other states.

“I understand that it is new and out-of-the-box thinking,” he said. “There are a lot of details that would have to be worked out.”

Others see it as simply the latest attempt to whittle away at the distinction between citizens and noncitizens, all but neutering federal immigration policy in the process. Indeed, some see the New York proposal as the culmination of the chipping away at immigration policies that has been underway for years.

“This is usually how these things start,” said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization that supports more border security and limiting illegal immigration.
“It is part of this incremental acceptance based on helping people who have violated the law in the first place.”

The problem, he added, is “if you sort of take the position, ‘Well they’re here, so we have to accommodate,’ you’re going to have to keep accommodating.”

The New York move also sets up a potential clash with federal law, although Rivera said his measure is designed to focus only on areas under state control.

Nevertheless, components like allowing unauthorized immigrants to sign up for Medicaid — the joint state-federal health care program for the poor — would surely raise questions about whether federal money is being used to care for people who are in the country illegally under federal law.

Photo: Anuska Sampedro via Flickr

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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