A Washington Post article this week highlighted what many state business groups, law enforcement officers and concerned legislatures have been cautioning for months—at a time of economic uncertainty, states simply cannot afford the costly legal battles and political backlash caused by Arizona-style immigration legislation. Over the past month, SB1070 copycat bills in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah, have been met with considerable hesitation and criticism from constituents worried about the social and economic impact on their state. Some states, like Mississippi and Wyoming, have even rejected initial versions of copycat bills due to high costs. But as other states consider enforcement legislation (California joined the fray this week, as did Georgia’s state Senate), those worried about how enforcement legislation will cost their state feel they can no longer afford to be quiet.
Outside Nebraska’s state capital, more than 300 protesters rallied against the state’s proposed Arizona-style bill (LB48), introduced earlier this month by state Sen. Charlie Janssen. Protestors, who carried signs reading “What Happens in Arizona Stays in Arizona” and “Do the Right Thing,” said that the Arizona-style enforcement law does not reflect most Nebraskans feelings. Nebraska’s NAACP said the bill would cause “harm and humiliation to many Nebraskans,” while religious groups, like the Nebraska United Methodist Church, said the bill would create an underclass of people, something that would tear “at the fabric of our common life.”
But Nebraska’s not the only state where people are riled up. Faith and humanitarian groups in Kentucky are planning to protest SB6 (which passed the Senate this week? but is not expected to pass the House) outside the state capital in Frankfurt next week. Kentucky taxpayers may be reacting to a recent fiscal impact study indicating that Kentucky’s SB1070 copycat law would cost the state $40 million per year—a hefty sum considering Kentucky is already facing a $780 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2011.
California joined the enforcement fray this week when Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks) moved on AB 26, which would allow (not require) California law enforcement to make a “reasonable attempt” to verify someone’s immigration status. Local advocates like Jorge-Mario Cabrera of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), however, pointed to California’s fiscal bottom line when criticizing AB 26, which he said “offers no practical solutions for the state’s fiscal or immigration concerns.”
Georgia Republican state senators introduced SB 40 this week, a controversial bill causing a stir among Georgia’s business and agricultural groups. Last week, state Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) introduced HB 87 in the lower chamber.
Advocates and religious leaders aren’t the only groups who think these laws are a bad idea—some in state legislatures are balking at state enforcement efforts. Earlier this week, the Mississippi Senate rejected a House version of an Arizona-style enforcement bill over sections “county and city officials worried would open them up to lawsuits” and “stiff penalties for businesses.” The Wyoming House also rejected an SB 1070 copycat bill after members of the business and industry community, including the Wyoming Contractors Association and the Wyoming Lodging & Restaurant Association, spoke out against the bill—a trend likely to continue.
Although these state copycat laws aren’t permanently halted, Ann Morse, Immigrant Policy Project at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said she wouldn’t be surprised to see “more state task forces looking more fully at this issue. Although the interest is still there,” she said, “many states are looking at the implications” of these laws.
And rightfully so. Vivek Malhotra, Advocacy and Policy Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), sums up the problem well:
In many states across the country, constitutionally suspect, discriminatory bills are becoming a distraction from pressing needs that the legislature actually has some control over, like balancing budgets or stimulating job growth. The federal court’s decision to block core provisions in Arizona’s racial-profiling law is having a deterrent effect on other states considering copycat bills. They know this unconstitutional approach to immigration enforcement is likely to embroil them in costly litigation at the taxpayer’s expense.
Until people honestly consider how these copycat laws will affect their own fiscal bottom lines—states with ailing budgets are only going to enforce themselves in the same tired and costly circle without really solving our federal immigration problems.
Photo by Carrie Sloan.