Video: Getting a handle on illegal immigration issues

NBC News
By Ron Allen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/20/2007 7:51:33 PM ET 2007-03-20T23:51:33

In suburban New York, Suffolk County police have orders to crack down on illegal workers by targeting their employers with traffic fines.

"Obviously, you picked up some workers," a police officer says to a driver he's just pulled over. "When you pulled away from the curb you didn't signal."

About 100 miles away in New Haven, Conn., the city hall sponsors tax filing centers with no questions asked about who is there legally.

It's a story of two communities that, like so many others, are faced with thousands of illegal immigrants. But which approach works?

"It's a matter of, how do you build a successful community?" says New Haven Mayor John DeStefano. "You've got to engage everyone who lives here positively."

"I think the better answer is to say we're going to enforce the labor laws, the housing codes, and the other laws we have on the books," says Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy.

There is something both places agree on — hardly anyone expects a national immigration initiative soon that will help solve the problem. It's the reason so many communities around the country are taking action.

New Haven's next step is a municipal ID card — the first of its kind in the nation — to help undocumented residents get city services or open bank accounts. New Haven is fast becoming a so called "sanctuary city."

Similarly, some 50 other cities, and at least four state governments, restrict enforcing laws aimed at illegal immigrants.

"The city's goal is to be a safe, civil place where people are able to fulfill their ambitions," DeStefano says.

But in Suffolk County, a new law will require employers with county business to prove all workers are legal. And the sheriff is stationing federal officers in the jail to deport anyone arrested who is here illegally.

"If every county did what we're about to do it would have a tremendous impact," Levy says.

And instead of worrying about getting into legal trouble, many illegal immigrants, like one man in New Haven from Mexico, say only the chance to work matters — leaving communities to decide what to do about their new residents.

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