New York Senate to vote on 'state citizenship' for illegal residents

A Democrat Senator in the New York State Legislature has proposed a radical plan to grant 'state citizenship to up to 2.5m illegal residents in the state.

Senator Gustavo Rivera who represents the Bronx, New York City, in the state Senate, proposed the new state law on 16th June. State citizenship (assuming such a thing is permitted under US law) would allow anyone who could prove that they had lived in the state for over three years to receive a range of civic benefits.

These would include the right to vote in state and local elections, the right to state assistance with college fees and access to Medicare (the US's emergency medical care system).

Range of civic benefits

It would also allow them a range of other civic benefits providing that they undertake to abide by state law and fulfil their civic duties, such as serving on juries.

Mr Rivera does not expect his bill to pass. The State Senate is controlled by the Republicans, who will definitely oppose it. However he sees the bill as one step in a process.

He said 'This is a bold idea and we don't expect anything to pass quickly. But this sets things in motion'. The New York Observer newspaper reports that Senator Rivera compared the fight for rights for illegal immigrants to other civic rights battles such as the battle for equal marriage rights for homosexual couples.

Unconstitutional

Even if it did pass, there is some question about whether such legislation is in keeping with US law. It would probably be challenged on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. If it were found to be so by the Supreme Court, it could be struck down.

The New York Observer says that Mr Rivera decided to introduce his bill after hearing of the defeat of, Eric Cantor, the leader of the Republican caucus in the Federal House of Representatives in a primary election in Virginia in early June.

Mr Rivera said that Mr Cantor's defeat 'made it clear we have to act quickly to protect the rights and privileges of all people living in this state'.

Tea Party challenge

Mr Cantor was defeated by Dave Brat, a challenger backed by the radical Tea Party movement in his primary election in Richmond Virginia. The victory sent shockwaves through the Washington establishment. It caused many commentators to claim that the prospects of Congress passing immigration reform legislation in Washington in the foreseeable future were dead.

Some commentators claimed that Mr Cantor had lost his seat because of his support for immigration reform. In fact this is not the case.

Mr Cantor spoke out against the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in June 2013.

Brat v Cantor

It is true that Mr Brat claimed that Mr Cantor was a supporter of immigration reform (wrongly as it happens) and spoke out against reform himself.

But it is also true that Mr Cantor was extremely unpopular in his own district where he was seen as a self-interested Washington insider who took voters in his home town for granted. Polls show that this was the real reason for his defeat.

Nonetheless, the prevailing political wisdom among many commentators in Washington is that now, because Mr Cantor has lost his seat in Washington because of his perceived support for immigration reform, other Republicans will not now support any immigration reform legislation for fear of sharing Mr Cantor's fate.

No immigration reform this year

Therefore, although they were proven wrong about the reasons for Mr Cantor's defeat, it seems that Washington commentators are probably correct to say that Congress will not now pass any immigration reform bill this year.

It is for this reason that Mr Rivera has attempted to set the ball rolling at a state level.

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