WASHINGTON - Federal inaction on immigration reform has triggered a national crisis and dramatically increased the likelihood of state-based immigration laws similar to Arizona’s approach. According to a new report prepared by the National Immigration Forum, at least seven states are likely to attempt an Arizona-style law to address the broken immigration system as a direct result of the federal inaction. States may attempt these laws despite overwhelming evidence that laws like SB 1070 are prohibitively expensive, endanger public safety, exacerbate state budget woes, and trigger protracted and costly legal fights.
On April 21st, 2010, Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” commonly referred to as SB 1070, a law that went further than any other state-based law. Overnight, Arizona became home to the nation’s harshest and most controversial immigration law and simultaneously created a public policy, legal, and electoral ripple effect that would be felt all over the country.
Meanwhile, Republicans won sweeping victories in the 2010 mid-term elections, handing them control of many gubernatorial posts and state legislatures. Several Republican leaders have indicated a strong desire to pursue harsh anti-immigrant legislation similar to Arizona’s approach despite evidence that such an approach is poisonous for the party’s long term electoral prospects.
“Republican leaders in these states now have tough choices to make as they weigh the responsibilities of governing. Who will speak for their party on immigration reform and what path will they choose as their states contemplate Arizona-style policies in response to the broken immigration system,” said Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum. “How will they answer questions of cost and safety? How will Republicans prove to fast-growing Latino, Asian and other immigrant populations their contributions are valued?”
According to the report, some states may forge full steam ahead with SB 1070-style legislation in January. Others may decide not to pursue a bill at all or opt for a scaled-back version after seriously considering potential legal fees, implementation costs and public safety concerns. What is certain, however, is that the tone of the debate will have an outsized influence on the national debate and how individual states and localities are viewed by the rest of the country and the rest of the world.
Preliminary assessments of the likely outcome of proposed copycat measures in state legislatures across the country indicate that at least seven states, Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Tennessee, are likely to pass a measure similar to Arizona’s. These states have some combination of the following: a re-elected, highly motivated potential bill sponsor, an already introduced measure similar to Arizona or a legislature–approved resolution supporting Arizona’s SB 1070, as well as a conservative Governor and conservative majority in the legislature.
While some state legislators may opt for harsh anti-immigrant legislation, they should heed Arizona’s cautionary tale. The new law triggered a national firestorm, cost the state millions in revenue, and caused irreparable damage to the state’s reputation. Arizona’s passage of the law sparked a national outcry whose effects will be felt for years, and it guaranteed the state will spend millions defending their controversial new law in the courts when their budget shortfall is at near record levels. States must ask themselves whether it’s good policy to pursue costly anti-immigrant measures or whether it makes more sense to use their powers to urge the federal government to finally fix the broken immigration system.