New York Senator looks to bring immigration reform to state level

While the House of Representatives shows no signs of voting on the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed through the Senate last year, a senator from New York is taking matters into his own hands. The “New York is Home” Act, introduced recently by Democratic State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, would grant many of the privileges of citizenship to noncitizen residents, including the right to vote or run in elections at the state, but not federal, level.

In order to qualify for the legal status the act would grant, a noncitizen resident would have to prove that they had lived and paid taxes in New York for at least three years. If an applicant was successful, the legal status they received would also entitle them to Medicaid, professional licensing, eligibility for a driver’s license and tuition assistance.

“Nearly 3 million people in the state of New York currently reside here and make New York their home, but can’t fully participate in civic, political and economic life,” Rivera said.

The bill is ambitious, to say the least. Though several other states have made it possible for noncitizen residents to receive in-state tuition or other tuition assistance, no state has ever attempted to introduce a non federal immigration bill, let alone one this comprehensive. Michael Olivas, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, echoed this sentiment in a statement to Businessweek.

“It’s mind boggling,” Olivas said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a serious attempt to codify so many benefits and opportunities.”

The bill faces a tough path if it’s going to pass. Critics of the proposition have been quick to point out that it violates federal authority over citizenship statutes. However, Peter Markowitz, a professor of law residing in New York who helped draft the bill, insists that the bill is entirely legitimate.

“The very nature of our dual-sovereign federal structure,” he told Bloomberg Businessweek, “is that New York gets to decide who are New Yorkers.”