States Contemplating Enforcement Legislation Continue to Walk the Line

From Arizona to Florida, SB1070-style immigration legislation continues to rear its ugly head—as do a string of other restrictive immigration bills. Also on the rise, however, are the voices of opposition who continue to decry this legislation as bad for local businesses, a threat to community safety and a burden on state economies. This week, legislatures in Georgia, South Dakota and Tennessee introduced or contemplated Arizona-style legislation, while states like Virginia and Mississippi considered a wide range of restrictive immigration bills—not, however, without grave objections from members of the community whose lives and livelihoods stand to be harmed by these restrictive immigration laws.

In Georgia this week, state Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) introduced HB 87 also known as the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011” which he claims was written to avoid a federal lawsuit. The Georgia Farm Bureau objected to state immigration legislation, worrying that it would put Georgia farmers at a disadvantage to other growers. Likewise, State Rep. Pedro Marin (D-Duluth) claimed the bill would “put a black eye on the state of Georgia at a time when it is competing to attract international businesses.”

Some in South Dakota, where immigration enforcement laws SB 156 and HB 1198 were proposed this week, feel like Arizona-style legislation is unnecessary given the low number of undocumented immigrants. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates South Dakota’s undocumented population to be less than 1.0% of the total population as of 2008—hardly a reason to crack down.

A group of business leaders and state representatives in Tennessee contemplated the economic impact of SB-1070 style legislation on their state this week. The Nashville Chamber of Commerce called Arizona-esque legislation “detrimental to work force development and international trade efforts” while the president of a local commercial real estate firm said it would “make Tennessee unattractive to businesses looking to relocate.” Others in the legislature hedged their bets, waiting until the constitutionality of Arizona-style laws is tested by the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, states legislatures in Virginia and Mississippi are scheduled to hear a slew of restrictive immigration bills this week and in weeks ahead—bills which seek to limit access to education and require stricter state identification provisions. It should come as no surprise that state lawmakers, like those in Mississippi, are quibbling over who, exactly, is going to pay for implementing these costly and restrictive measures—a question that persuaded lawmakers in Wyoming to take enforcement legislation off the table.

Earlier this week, local law enforcement officials in Wyoming called HB 94, a bill similar to Arizona’s SB1070, “difficult to enforce” and “an unfunded mandate.” Casper Police Chief Tom Pagel said his department doesn’t have enough resources to enforce federal immigration law while the business, industry and legal community questioned “whether it’s in Wyoming’s interest to commit to spending the legal fees to defend a similar law.” Thankfully, the Wyoming House business committee killed the bill when no members moved to vote on it.

States should hesitate before moving forward on enforcement legislation given the large expense and impact on communities in other states. Sadly, however, state legislators seem determined to act against their state’s best interests and move forward on restrictive immigration laws, which have been proven time and time again to hurt small businesses, law enforcement and the pocket books of the constituents they claim to represent.

Photo by El Struthio.

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