Will Local Lawmakers Take the Immigration Enforcement Bait?

As local lawmakers begin to lay the groundwork for next year’s legislative agenda, some are attempting to prioritize immigration enforcement ahead of efforts to jump-start flagging economies. In Oklahoma, for example, an internal storm is brewing between a House Republican and the Speaker-elect about where the party’s “social agenda” (read: immigration enforcement) fits on the legislative priority list. Similar battles over whether to pursue Arizona-esque immigration enforcement legislation are abound in Virginia, Nevada, Florida, Colorado and California. While the actual enforcement legislation may differ from state to state, legislators are weighing the same questions—cost of implementation, lengthy court battles, divisiveness, public safety concerns and economic priorities. The question remains, however, given the federal challenge to Arizona’s SB1070 and economic loss due to boycotts, whether other state legislators will take the immigration enforcement bait?

Last week, House Republican and author of Oklahoma’s immigration bill, Rep. Randy Terrill, confronted Speaker-elect Kris Steele over the party’s “social agenda” for the next legislative session. Terrill accused Steele of giving the party’s social agenda, or more specifically, Terrill’s immigration bill (currently tied up in federal courts), short shrift and said Steele was headed for a “collision course” with the conservative side of the caucus. Steele, also a Republican, responded that the state’s economy should be a priority:

… Steele said he wants Republicans to focus on issues like the economy instead of becoming mired in legislation involving immigration, weapons or other social issues. Terrill agreed growing the economy and creating jobs are important but accused Steele of “mocking the conservative agenda.”

In Nevada, an Arizona-esque immigration bill in addition to bills requiring E-verify and money wire transfer fees are being floated. Republican and incoming Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, however, thinks adding immigration to an already charged agenda is not helpful:

“Anything that divides people, sets them apart, is probably not a good thing,” incoming Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, said.

McGinness, who takes over the leadership spot from Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, did not sound eager for the Legislature, which has 120 days starting Feb. 7 to balance the budget and tackle statewide redistricting, to add more controversy to the agenda.

In Florida, Governor-elect Rick Scott was silent on illegal immigration when going into a special session this month, even though he campaigned hard on the issue over the last few months. While a few Republican leaders—incoming AG Pam Bondi, Rep. William Snyder and outgoing AG Bill McCollum—continue to push for enforcement legislation, some in the party would rather focus on Florida’s economy.

“As far as what House is focusing on for the next year, I can tell you that’s not high on the priority list,” said House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami. Economic concerns, not immigration, are the House’s primary concern, he said.

And earlier this week in Colorado, conservative state lawmakers gathered at a summit to discuss introducing restrictive immigration legislation in January. According to the Denver Post, the bill seems unlikely to pass due to the Democrats’ control of the Senate, but that’s not stopping state House Republican Randy Baumgardner. Baumgardner cites “the cost of illegal immigration to Colorado” as a reason for the bill while conveniently ignoring the bill’s potential cost to the state. Meanwhile, Colorado Senate Democrat Betty Boyd said the state legislature should be focusing on reviving the economy. “I don’t think that kind of bill does that,” she said.

If history is any guide, cities and states that have already attempted to pass restrictive immigration legislation are still paying the price. Hazleton, Pennsylvania, currently faces $2.4 million in legal fees; Farmers Branch, Texas, has already spent about $3.2 million to defend itself since September 2006; Fremont, Nebraska estimates the annual cost of defending their immigration ordinance to be about $750,000; and finally, a report by the Center for American Progress estimates “the economic and fiscal consequences of the tourism boycott that occurred in response to the passage of S.B. 1070” could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

The cautionary tales of other states and cities that have attempted immigration enforcement legislation may not be enough to halt passage of similar legislation in other states, but it will hopefully give restrictionist legislators—and the residents who voted for them—something to think about.

Photo by Yung GrassHopper.

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