National Immigration Forum

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New Report Describes Slowing Momentum for SB 1070-Style Laws

March 31, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger



Momentum is slowing in the states for advocates of Arizona SB 1070-style legislation.  Arizona’s pioneering approach to immigration law is looking to other states like the Donner party’s pioneering shortcut through the Great Salt Desert.  While it is too early for opponents to declare victory, Arizona-style laws have so far been defeated in nine states.


A new report released last week from the National Immigration Forum takes a look at what has happened in Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.  The report, “In the States: Stepping into the Federal Void,” is an update to a report released in December, “Deficits, Lawsuits, Diminished Public Safety: Your State Can’t Afford SB 1070.”  While SB 1070-style measures have not been ultimately put to rest in all of these states, the enthusiasm for enacting tough local enforcement laws has run in to the harsh fiscal realities states are experiencing.


The reversal of fortune for SB 1070-style legislation is also thanks in part due to the increasingly vocal opposition of business and law enforcement. 


What has happened in Arizona is not good for business.  According to estimates done for the Center for American Progress, cancelled meetings and conferences have already cost the state more than $150 million, and it is expected to lose another $250 million in lost conference business. If Arizona were to succeed in driving out all undocumented immigrants, the state’s economy would shrink by another $48 billion, and tax revenues would shrink by 10 percent. 


In Indiana, two of the state’s largest employers—Eli Lilly and Cummins, Inc.—have come out against an SB 1070-style bill in that state, stating that it will hinder businesses from competing in the global market.


The complaints of law enforcement are both economic and substantive.  Many agencies say that an SB 1070-style law will make it extremely difficult for police to carry out their primary duty, keeping the public safe.  If police are required to round up immigrants, they will lose the trust they have built up in immigrant communities. 


As El Paso’s Sheriff Richard Wiles put it,


"Police departments depend on trust, partnerships and a positive relationship with the communities we serve. I'm concerned that if forced into this immigration issue, we're going to tear down the trust and respect and crime will rise in our cities. There's no reason to go down that road."


El Paso has a lot to lose should the community distrust its police force: Last year, the city had the lowest crime rate of any city in the U.S. with a population of a half million or more.


Police are also concerned about shrinking budgets and increasing responsibilities.  Lincoln, Nebraska’s Police Chief Tom Casady is already concerned that his force is the smallest, per capita, in the state and is failing to keep up with Lincoln’s growth.  Writing about Nebraska’s LB 48, he said, “I fail to see this as a good return on investment.”

 Opponents of these experiments in state enforcement of federal laws are also concerned about the additional burden these laws will place on states already reeling from the Great Recession.  In Kansas, Senate Vice President John Vratil (R) would rather wait the outcome of lawsuits pending against Arizona.


“Why would we go down the same road as Arizona until there’s a determination in the federal courts? It’s silly as far as I’m concerned. All we’re going to do is get sued.”


Even in states controlled by conservative legislatures and governorships, there are proponents and opponents of SB 1070-style laws.  The debate puts on display a political battle going on within the Republican Party and among conservatives.  On the one hand, there are those who would spare no expense to enforce immigration law.  On the other, there are those who believe they were elected not to expand the role of government as would be required by state enforcement of federal immigration laws, but instead to cut the size of government.  Given the deficits already faced by states, the immigration laws being considered will require more debt, more cuts in other programs, or more taxes.


There is also the battle between the short-term and long-term thinkers within the Party.  The harsh rhetoric surrounding the debate over these immigration laws may motivate a certain element of the conservative base, but the cost is alienation of the fastest-growing segment of the electorate—Latino voters.  Strategists concerned about the long-term prospects are concerned about the ability of Republican politicians to attract Latino voters, who look at a candidate’s position on immigration as a proxy for respect for their community.  In the future, attracting the Latino vote will be key to winning national elections, as it already is in some key states.


Get the report, to read more about what is going on in the states.

Image by Flickr User wwarby.

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