Enough is Enough: State Legislators Fight Arizona Copycat Laws with Progressive Immigration Policies

Tired of restrictionists introducing “get tough” anti-immigration legislation in their states, state legislators are pushing back with progressive immigration policies of their own. On a telebriefing yesterday sponsored by the Progressive States Network and the National Immigration Law Center, state legislators from Arizona, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Utah discussed what they are actively doing to push back on the recent uptick in statewide anti-immigrant legislation. From public education campaigns to health, wage protection and enforcement legislation, these state leaders are fed up with the status quo.

With less than a month until SB1070’s enactment date (July 29), Arizona State Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is on a campaign to educate local police about the economic and legal realities of enforcing SB1070. While some claim that the Arizona law will help crack down on border violence, Rep. Sinema wants others to realize that SB1070 does nothing to address violent crimes but instead impedes local law enforcement’s ability to keep communities safe.

SB1070 is a very difficult issue to address in Arizona because the perception of many people in the state is that SB1070 addresses border violence. Some individuals have expressed initial support for it, but once folks understand that border violence is not actually addressed whatsoever by this legislation, we see support begin to drop.

What we’re working towards in Arizona—in anticipation of the law’s implementation—is to help law enforcement understand the jeopardy they are placed in—being faced with law suits if they enforce the law and lawsuits if they don’t enforce the law. We’re really seeking to try to find opportunities to help others in the country avoid SB1070-like measures and try to stop copycat legislation across the country. Instead, we want to focus on the kinds of measures that actually help interdict the criminal activity we see happening in border regions.

State Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa is trying to leverage state wage enforcement legislation to address the rampant exploitation of all Iowa workers by unscrupulous employers. According to Sen. Bolkcom, the current wage protection laws in Iowa are weak.

We have focused on expanding and improving wage/hour enforcement law. This legislation really targets those employers who would take advantage of any Iowa worker—including newcomers. Essentially, it’s a zero tolerance law for unscrupulous employers that protects every worker and ensures that we don’t become a state where people are taken advantage of—whether they’re new to the state or have been long-term Iowa workers. Essentially our approach to fighting off really bad anti-immigrant legislation is to say that all Iowa workers deserve protections from wage theft, from law-breaking employers. It’s the best way to strengthen workers, their families and Iowa’s communities.

State Sen. Luz Robles of Utah has prioritized quality, accessible and affordable health care for all children in Utah. After President Obama signed the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (SCHIP) back in 2009, Sen. Robles continues those efforts by introducing health amendments to benefit legal immigrant children.

It’s always more cost effective to provide adequate coverage to these children than it is to be dealing with children who are uninsured for that five year period. That’s our message throughout the session. It’s important for us to have all the children in Utah covered.

State Sen. Daylin Leach of Pennsylvania has introduced an advanced community policing bill which essentially bars local law enforcement from enforcing federal immigration laws.

Local police are supposed to stop street crime, which becomes more difficult to do if people in the neighborhood you’re policing or patrolling don’t trust you because they fear you’re going investigating their immigration status. They’re less likely to cooperate with you or give you the tips you need. In fact, a number of police chiefs have made that point that the obligation contained in the Arizona law would undermine their ability to do what they have historically been charged to do.

These are just a few examples of how frustrated state legislators are pushing back on anti-immigration legislation and restrictionists in their states. Although immigration advocates anxiously await the Department of Justice’s soon-to-be-filed federal lawsuit against SB1070, anti-immigration measures in other states unfortunately show no sign of slowing. One can only hope that as the economic, political and legal consequences of anti-immigration laws begin to unfold, that communities—and the legislators who represent them—begin to understand the costly damages these measures will have down the road.

Photo by altnav.

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