Comparing politics, law, policy, and power



Threaded throughout the united states history, immigration has taken a bigger prominence in the policy and political conversations amid debate over possible reforms to the border and national security, immigration system, and the role of united states in resettling of the refugees at a period of high record of displacement globally. Questions about the historical and current pace of immigration, illegal migration, role of the immigrants in the labor market, enforcement practices, and humanitarian admission policies are often raised (Zong & Batalova, 2017). For about 150 years, Ramakrishnan & Gulasekaram (2014) pointed out that the federal government of united states has been pre-eminent in immigration policy. At one point, the supreme court and the congress have also granted limited room for regulating the livelihoods and lives of the immigrants living within the borders of united states, such as providing health and welfare services, and issuing of business licenses. In the past decade, local and state governments have produced flurry of legislation related to immigration and immigrants. Most of the legislations were restrictive in nature between the year 2004 and 2012 (Ramakrishnan & Gulasekaram, 2014) making it more difficult for the immigrants to live their daily lives, work and reside in communities. For instance, several cities imposed penalties on the employers who hired unauthorized immigrants and the landlord who rented to them. This essay will compare the approaches used by two states in united states, Arizona and California, to the immigration policy issue.

Immigration Laws

Despite the fact that laws of immigration come from the federal government, which has the sole authority of granting citizenship, green cards and visas, states also have laws that establish rules for certain activities in the state related to immigration. Findlaw (2017) pointed out that typically these states relate to state benefits, licensing, education and employment

California State Immigration Laws

Immigration and Law enforcement in California

California state does not require the local or the state law enforcement officers to check the immigration status when they stop any person. In fact, many cities in this state have sanctuary policies that helps the federal immigration effort. However, all arrested individuals, under a federal program are fingerprinted and run through a checking database for their immigration status.

Employment checks

Employers under federal law must verify prospective authorization of the employees to work in united states. The 2012 implemented legislation made it easier for the farm workers including the undocumented ones, to join labor unions and advocate for their rights (Findlaw, 2017).

E-Verify Law of California

Despite the fact that a number of states in united states requires using E-verify, the recently signed legislation in California instead restricts the usage of E-verify in the state. California, under its legislation has prohibited counties, municipalities, and other government entities of the state from passing E-verify mandatory ordinances that apply to private employers. Because of this, private employers in this state are not obligated to use E-verify, although they are free to use it voluntarily

ID requirements/ Drivers License

The law in California requires every applicant for driver’s license or ID card to show proof of legal presence in united states and verification of birth date. This can be done by several identifying documents such as the social Security Card, and limits the illegal immigrants from accessing the driver’s license (Findlaw, 2017).

Public Benefits Restrictions

The illegal immigrants are prohibited under federal law from receiving public benefits, even though they are allowed to get healthcare, emergency services and other identified programs necessary in protecting life and safety. California state makes available several programs to individuals irrespective of their status of immigration, with most involving accessing various healthcare aspects

Immigration and Education in California

In contrast to some states which limited illegal immigrants from accessing in state tuition rates through legislation, California state passed the DREAM Act, which explicitly permitted prospective and current undocumented immigrant students to be paying the same tuition that legal residents in state enjoy at public universities. Moreover, another related legislation will grant these same students to apply for and receive financial aid benefits. Moreover, graduate exam test sponsors must provide alternative methods to prove their identification (Findlaw, 2017).

Voter ID Rules

The federal law outlines ID requirements and baseline registrations for elections involving federal offices, and the election laws in California mirrors these requirements. For instance, demanding the voter to produce an ID in some cases at the polls. Particularly, the new voters getting registration and those re-registering must provider their information for identification on their registration form (last four digits of their Drivers License No or Social Security number). If an individual does not possess either of these, they will have to prove their identity at the polling booth through issued by the state or one of other forms of identification accepted. However, a voter who does not provide their form of identifications can still vote but on a provisional basis, requiring verification of identification within the voting days (Findlaw, 2017).

Immigration and Housing Ordinances

California does not prohibit provision or rental of housing to the illegal immigrants. However, there is a rising effort at the local level countrywide to bar rentals to people illegally residing in the country (Findlaw, 2017).

Arizona State Immigration Laws

When the Arizona Senate Bill 1070 was passed and signed into law, the state ushered in one of the toughest laws of immigration in the united states at that time. However, after United states supreme court ruling in 2012 and a 2016 immigrants’ rights groups settlement that had filed lawsuits, the law had been significantly whittled down.

Immigration and Law enforcement in Arizona

This was one of the first states that mandated the law enforcement officers of the state to run checks on individual’s immigration status whenever there was a reasonable existing suspicion that an individual was in the country unlawfully. Under the provisions of the laws, the officers were directed to conduct verification on the immigration status of persons who look suspicious with the federal authorities. Moreover, if a person is found to be present illegally, they will be transferred to the federal immigration authority’s custody. however, Findlaw (2017) pointed out that these provisions no longer exist as part of the law.

Employment Checks

The Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) sections 23-211 to 23-214 under Legal Arizona Workers Act prohibits employers from employing unauthorized workers knowingly. The potential penalties to the employers who have violated this section range from warnings to loosing of business license permanently. Additionally, Arizona state has criminalized solicitation or application for work by the illegal immigrants (Findlaw, 2017).

E-Verify Requirements in Arizona

All employers in Arizona state are required by the Legal Arizona Workers Act to use E-Verify to prevent employing unauthorized workers. The Legal Arizona Workers Act was upheld by the united states supreme court over legal challenges with a claim that it ran afoul of federal laws of immigration. The ruling of the supreme court was that Arizona law fell within the authority left to the states on the subject by congress (Findlaw, 2017).

Driver’s License/ID Requirements

The illegal immigrants do not get driving licenses in Arizona and every applicant for driver’s license or ID card is required to show proof of legal residency within USA and verification of birth date

Immigration Status and public benefits

The illegal immigrants under federal laws are prohibited from receiving public benefits, despite the fact that they are allowed to receive health care, emergency services, and other programs considered to be necessary for protection of life and safety (Findlaw, 2017).

Tuition or Educational Restrictions

Arizona state prohibits the schools of the state from providing in state tuition benefits to the illegal immigrants

Voter ID Rules

The law in Arizona requires a voter to show either a photo ID, or two forms from a list of acceptable valid documents bearing the address and name of a voter, such as credit union or bank statement, recent utility bill, vehicle insurance statement or registration statement, and many more. Additionally, a voter who failing in providing sufficient or valid identification documentation can still vote using the provisional ballot. However, they will have to show their eligibility for voting within the five business days of election.

Immigration and Housing Ordinances

Despite efforts being made in Arizona for prohibition of renting of houses to the illegal immigrants, currently there is no statewide ban that exists. However, there are rising efforts locally countrywide to bar renting to persons in the country illegally

Other Rules of Immigration

The legislations in Arizona are comprehensive and strict piece of immigration. Additional provisions of the law are concerned about different matters including:

  • Driving ad impounded vehicles
  • Harboring of illegal immigrants or prohibitions on the transport (Findlaw, 2017).

Theories of power explaining the differences between how each state has handled immigration issue

Two theories of power can be used in explaining the differences between how Arizona and California state handled the immigration policy issues; power elite theory and pluralism. Pluralism states that the political power in united states as well as other democracies get dispersed among many veto groups competing in the political processes for influence and resources (UMN, 2017). The view of the plurists argues that the policy is made by groups in the society bargaining and competing with each other in pursuit of their own individual interest. This theory also assumes that individuals coalesce around the common goals, and the outcome of the policy is the political equilibrium resulting from the bargaining and competition among various groups. The plurist interpretation of immigration policies is seen in Arizona state where laws have been shaped by bargaining, interaction and competition among interest groups. Therefore, the inability in restricting immigration, enactment of stringent immigration laws, and endless court battles on immigration laws are caused by the overwhelming strength of restrictionists vi-a-vis pro-immigration groups (Lee, 1998).

Power elite theory, on the other hand, consists of the ruling class composed of the big business, the government and the military that works for its own interest and controls society, not for the citizenry interest (UMN, 2017). Lee (1998) argued that capitalists have erected generous laws of immigration to depress wages and provide cheap labor, for instance the less stringent immigration laws in California state

Possible explanations for the differences in how each state’s government has approached Immigration Policy issue


In California, 10.7 million immigrants in 2015 formed 27.3% of the population. Additionally, the state in 2016 had 9.3 million (23.8% of their population) native born Americans whose parents had at least one parent who was an immigrant (AIC, 2017). This explains their nonrestrictive immigration policies. On the other hand, the population of the illegal immigrants makes up at least 46% of the states total population foreign born (856,663), which was equivalent to the total population (FAIR, 2017). Such a small number compared to California


Arizona state borders Mexico and about 47% of all border crossings that are illegal to united states takes place along the Mexico and Arizona border. That explains the stingiest immigration law and policies enacted by Arizona compared to California which borders Mexican state slightly to the south


In 2011, there was an estimated 278,460 illegal immigrants in Arizona, and this represented the states 9.3% of the total workforce. Furthermore, 8.7% of Arizona’s by 2012 were unemployed, with over 10% of enrolled children in public schools having parents who are illegal aliens. The illegal immigrants with their children in 2008 in Arizona was estimated to be 37% of the uninsured population, and the uncompensated cost of care for them was $320 million per year. Lastly, due to illegal immigration, the total medical, education and incarceration costs in Arizona is about $2.6 billion annually (FAIR, 2017). In California in 2015, 6.6 million immigrant workers made 33.9% of the Californian labor force. In 2014, households led by immigrants paid $26.4 billion in local and state taxes in California, and $56.5 billion to federal taxes. Undocumented Californian immigrants paid about $3.2 billion in local and state taxes in 2014 alone. Moreover, as consumers residents of California in households led by immigrants has $238.7 billion in spending power in 2014 after tax income (AIC, 2017). This shows how they significantly contribute to the Californian economy and therefore immigration laws do not restrict their movements.

Extent to which existing policies and laws affected past migration patterns of the immigrants


The effort of the policymakers in Arizona to deter illegal settlement of the illegal immigrants and to encourage those within the state to leave have seen major advances. The existing policies and laws have affected past immigration patterns as shown in the data below:

  • Prior 2007 there was rapid growth in population, and this had dropped significantly by 150,000, of which 90,000 of the drop is from illegal aliens moving into the state.
  • Foreign born resident population between 2007 and 2010 from Latin America fell by annual mean of 33,500 residents (Martin, 2012).
  • Arizona’s federal immigration authorities estimate the states alien population dropped by 100,000 in 2008 from 560,000 to 460,000 representing 18% drop and the largest in USA that year (Martin, 2012).


  • The number of illegal aliens in California between 1960 and 1995 increased six times to 8 million from 1.3 million, representing a percentage increase from 8.2% to 24.1% (Camarota, 2017).
  • In the last three decades, immigration in California has been extraordinary with 8 million immigrants in mid 1990s representing one in four residents of the state (Camarota, 2017).

How might future migration patterns be affected

The trend of immigration patterns seems to continue with the same trend with minor effects. The immigration patterns to Arizona will continue to decrease while in California it will continue rising because of the immigration laws and policies these two starts have adopted


The governor of Arizona in 2010 signed Senate Bill 1070 into law with an aim of preventing illegal immigrants. Much of the law was struck out by the supreme court of united states in 2012, requiring the immigrants to carry their proof of legal residence. Under the preemption doctrine, the supremacy doctrine of the constitution of united states (Article VI, Section 2) stands for the principle that the federal law trumps of preempts the laws of the state in matters that arise out of the federal law (Findlaw, 2017).

Arizona state changed its laws in line with the federal laws by only applying one provision left that requires police to demand for legal residency documentation. However, in 2016, the lawsuits were settled by the state and the immigrants’ rights groups and National Immigration Law Center by dropping this provision that the supreme court left (Findlaw, 2017).

Some of the lessons that can learnt is that the state should the state should be given the jurisdiction to protect their borders. However, in doing so, they should do it lawfully without enacting laws contrary to the federal laws or laws that profile or victimize illegal aliens.

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