The Wrong Approach: State Anti-Immigration Legislation in 2011 | By A. Elena Lacayo | National Council of La Raza
On April 23, 2010, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law SB 1070, the nation’s most punitive immigration legislation, placing anti-immigrant initiatives into the national spotlight alongside herself and the bill’s sponsor, Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce. The legislation was widely condemned by the country’s leading civil rights organizations for essentially codifying and legitimizing racial profiling. However, in spite of the damage that Arizona has suffered in terms of its weakened national image, lost business and tourism revenue, and legal fees related to SB 1070, the legislators and private interest groups that helped pass this law announced their intent to pass similar laws in other states.
Since passage of SB 1070, legislators in 36 states have attempted to advance similar measures. To date, 31 states have rejected or declined to advance SB 1070 copycats,* and while five states opted to follow Arizona’s misguided example and approve similar anti- immigrant legislation, all five have been sued and have been prevented from implementing the law in full. This stands in stark contrast to what was expected in the immediate aftermath of SB 1070, when various news reports predicted that as many as half of the states would pass similar legislation.
Congressional inaction to address immigration has fueled the consideration of increasingly draconian measures by state and local governments. Although the federal government alone has the authority to regulate immigration, an increasing number of states and local jurisdictions have begun stepping into the vacuum, leading to a rise in immigration-related measures, most of which are punitive and have proven detrimental
to the jurisdictions that passed them. Moreover, by authorizing law enforcement to inquire into the immigration status of those they deem “reasonably suspect” of being present without legal documentation, SB 1070 subjects anyone who looks different or is perceived as foreign to discrimination, thereby opening the door to racial profiling. While legislators passing such measures claim that their efforts have focused on undocumented immigrants, anti-immigrant policies have also led to an increasingly hostile environment toward legal immigrants and Latinos citizens. A 2008 Pew Hispanic Center survey of Latinos, including U.S. citizens and immigrants alike, found that nearly one in ten Hispanic adults in the U.S. reported that police or other authorities had asked them about their immigration status in the past year. More importantly, the study found that 35% of native-born Hispanic citizens (who cannot be deported) worry a lot or some about deportation for themselves or their loved ones.2 After the passage of SB 1070 in Arizona, 72% of Latinos believed that police would be inclined to stop and question a person because that person is Latino.
While immigration has often been a bipartisan issue, anti-immigrant voices growing in the Republicans’ ranks have appeared to move that political party toward supporting an increasingly anti-immigrant agenda. Consequently, large wins for the Republican Party in 2010 state elections contributed to the expectation that Arizona-style anti- immigrant legislation would be approved in many state legislatures in 2011. Indeed, most states considered legislation modeled after Arizona’s law in the 2011 legislative session, but the majority of these bills were rejected due to concerns about cost, threats of litigation, business losses, and damaged state reputation. Despite the fact that anti- immigrant legislation was primarily advanced by members of the Republican Party, half of the states that rejected such legislation were Republican-controlled, with two-thirds of those enjoying Republican supermajorities. This indicates that while the anti-immigrant movement has made inroads in the Republican Party, Republicans themselves are divided about the implications of Arizona-style anti-immigrant legislation, recognizing, as others have, the negative effects of such a law.
Unfortunately, in 2011 five states (Utah, Indiana, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina) opted to ignore the negative impact that SB 1070 had on Arizona and approve similar legislation in their states. As a result, similar negative effects are now beginning to surface in those states in the form of legal challenges, economic losses, and an increase in racial discrimination. Thus, while these bills are being presented under the guise of addressing immigration concerns, the balance sheet does not bear that out. Their costs, unintended negative economic effects, and discriminatory effects, combined with the fact that these bills have been found to worsen many of the problems that they were intended to solve, show that such legislation is motivated more by political posturing than by attempts to create pragmatic state policy.