Why Some States Considering Immigration Legislation Might Be Jumping Off the Arizona Bandwagon

Following the district court’s ruling enjoining the most controversial provisions of SB 1070 last week, some states are now deciding whether or not to move forward with their own version of Arizona’s immigration legislation—or are at least considering dumping the Arizona-style provisions that U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton temporarily halted. Currently, 22 states have introduced or are considering introducing similar legislation. State legislators are citing fear of costly lawsuits and a charged political environment in which restrictive immigration legislation might not pass as factors in their decision. The city of Fremont, Nebraska, for example, recently halted the enforcement of its enforcement legislation (which prohibits the hiring of or renting to undocumented immigrants) in the face of legal challenges from civil rights groups.

In Ohio, state representative Courtney Combs (R-Hamilton) is revising Ohio’s version of Arizona’s law to avoid potential lawsuits:

Filing an Arizona-style bill “would be wasting taxpayers’ money,” Combs says. “I think we need to make sure that we comply with what the federal courts come up with.”

Similarly, Idaho’s state senator, Robert Geddes, is editing out the enjoined provisions Judge Bolton halted last week:

“I don’t know that we would cut and paste exactly what Arizona has, based on what the judge has already ruled,” Geddes says. “That doesn’t help us much to engage in the same battle that Arizona has lost.”

In Fremont, Nebraska—where residents fought a two-year battle with the city to pass an ordinance that requires businesses to verify employees’ immigration status and renters to apply for an occupancy license—the city council recently delayed enforcement of the ordinance just days before it was scheduled to go into effect. City Council President, Scott Getzschman, cited scant city resources and legal challenges as reasons for the delayed enforcement:

“Given the size of our city, we will make a decision based on the best interest of the citizens of Fremont. As we evaluate legal challenges ahead, we need to look at our resources carefully,” Getzschman said.

Coming out of the recession, many states are facing budget deficits and cannot afford the hefty expenses and fees brought on by legal challenges. According to a report by Immigration Policy Center, Farmers Branch, Texas has already spent about $3.2 million to defend itself since September 2006, when it launched the first of three immigration ordinances. Similarly, Hazleton, Pennsylvania’s insurance carrier is asking a federal judge to rule that it is not responsible for nearly $2.4 million in attorney fees being sought by the plaintiffs who successfully challenged the city s Illegal Immigration Relief Act.

While some states will undoubtedly move forward with the introduction of new immigration enforcement measures, the district court’s ruling on SB 1070 is at least making other states pause and consider the large costs and political consequences associated with enforcing restrictive immigration laws. Whether or not state legislators realize that a patchwork of state immigration policy does nothing to actually solve immigration problems on a national scale remains to be seen.

Photo by Asbestos Bill.

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