Some States “Just Say No” to Harmful Immigration Enforcement Laws

If Arizona had its own television show, the warning “don’t try this at home” would appear after every commercial break. (Cut to tumbleweeds and Arizona businesses pulling their pockets inside out) This week, some states—like Virginia, South Dakota and New Hampshire—actually heeded that warning and rejected a host of enforcement measures targeting undocumented immigrants. States like Oregon, Colorado and Maryland are even introducing progressive, common sense immigration proposals that benefit their state. That is, of course, not to say that other states like Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arizona aren’t still pursing harmful enforcement legislation, but they do so in full light of the social and economic consequences—consequences for which Arizona and other states are still paying.

This week, the Virginia Senate subcommittee rejected 10 of the 12 House-approved bills targeting undocumented immigrants, one of which was HB 2332, an Arizona-style enforcement bill. Critics complained the proposed bill would foster racial profiling while others, like Virginia Del. Scott A. Surovell, commented that the GOP’s current immigrant-focused enforcement strategy is like “a longterm kamikaze mission” given the states growing Latino population.

Similarly, South Dakota’s House State Affairs Committee voted 11-2 earlier this week to reject their Arizona-esque immigration enforcement bill (HB 1198). Mayor Mike Levsen commented that city police just didn’t have the time to investigate “the status of a single person,” while Tom Barnett, Executive Director of the State Bar of South Dakota, highlighted the potential burden to state taxpayers. “We will get sued,” he said, “and we will lose.”

New Hampshire also briefly jumped in and out of the immigration enforcement ring this week when the House Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety recommended the early death of HB 644. While not exactly an Arizona copycat law, HB 644 included a bundle of enforcement provisions targeting undocumented immigrants.

On the progressive front, both Oregon and Maryland introduced immigration bills that would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition—tuition that goes a long way in funding the states’ higher education systems. A similar bill, SB 126, cleared the Colorado Senate Education Committee this week and now goes to the Senate Finance Committee.

But even states introducing proactive immigration laws are still capable of moving forward with Arizona-style laws, regardless of the bill’s viability. Colorado state Senator Kent Lambert filed SB 54, an Arizona-esque bill, this week in spite of the fact that a similar bill (HB 1107) was killed over fiscal concerns in the House last week. And lawmakers in Tennessee considered three immigration proposals this week—one of which allows police to “question the citizenship of anyone lawfully stopped”—even though a recent poll reveal that more Tennesseans think the economy should be their top priority.

In Kansas, Secretary of State Kris Kobach (an old hand at crafting anti-immigration legislation) and Republican Rep. Lance Kinzer introduced an immigration bill modeled on Arizona’s SB 1070. Kobach believes the bill will pass with a conservative House and a Republican Governor, but others think a moderate Senate, opposition from business groups, and the way Arizona’s law plays out in the courts is enough to hold the bill up.

Oklahoma’s Senate committee approved two immigrant enforcement bills this week in a party-line vote, one of which (SB 908) legislators call “Arizona-plus” due to the provision that allows police to confiscate the property (homes and cars) of those found to be in the country illegally. Despite claims that the bill is “mean-spirited” and a distraction from more important priorities, the measures will advance to Oklahoma’s Senate Appropriations Committee.

And for the crown jewel of enforcement legislation this week, we go to SB 1070’s birthplace, Arizona, where state lawmakers proposed a bill (SB 1405) that would require hospitals to check the immigration status of patients. State Sen. Kyrsten Sinema made the point that this bill would place an undue “burden on hospitals to act as immigration agents” while retired doctor, George Pauk, asked why the state would want to “stop sick people from coming for health care?” State Sen. Russell Pearce (author of SB 1070) responded with this nugget of wisdom, “We’re going to enforce our laws without apology.”

It’s that lack of apology which makes this slippery slope of state enforcement legislation all the more frustrating—the lack of apology to the taxpayers who will ultimately foot the bill for these laws, and the lack of apology from Congress for their continued failure to put politics aside and find real solutions to our immigration problems.

Photo by Phoney Nickle.

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  1. Dr. Ed Valenzuela says:

    Congress has failed to pass Immigration Reform. The Supreme Court will provide no relief. We have to follow the California plan – prepare the growing Chicano population to register and vote out the Republican racists. Given the inevitable eventual Hispanic majority, IF we can limit today’s damage until our votes count- we will overcome!!

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