How to Settle the State Tug-of-War Over Migrants

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Washington Monthly on 11/30/2022 by Khalil A. Cumberbatch and Marc A. Levin

In recent months, high-profile conservative governors like Greg Abbott of Texas and Florida’s Ron DeSantis have flown and bused migrants to blue states and cities in a move that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan decried as “publicity stunts.” While these transfers of migrants across state lines are most notable for dialing up the pitched political battle another decibel, could there be a serious solution for sharing the benefits and burdens of migration across jurisdictions? Federal immigration reforms have been stalled for decades and are likely to remain so. But a new interstate compact—an agreement of cooperation that states use in criminal justice and other contexts—could be part of the answer.

There are other stigmatized groups for whom such agreements already exist. Like undocumented immigrants, people on probation and parole are often made to feel unwelcome. But states and cities do not “dump” parolees, especially those just released from prison, on their counterparts, however politically tempting it might be to make a statement about crime. An obscure but instructive entity prevents it: the Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision. The ICAOS is an interstate compact regulating the transfer of approximately 250,000 people on community supervision every year. This framework of reciprocity could provide a model for addressing similar challenges in both immigration and criminal justice.

In 1934, Congress authorized the original version of the ICAOS, known as the Interstate Compact for the Supervision of Parolees and Probationers, and states created it in 1937. Then it was streamlined and strengthened under the new name in 2002 after extensive public hearings and study. The body, which incorporates all U.S. states and territories, seeks to provide an orderly process for people on community supervision who voluntarily wish to move across state lines, often seeking to reconnect with family or find employment.