PHOENIX -- A year after SB 1070 took effect, states nationwide are turning away from similar bills, fearing the financial and political fallout seen in Arizona and the consequences that anti-immigrant legislation could have in their own backyards, according to a New America Media report.
“Arizona was a wake up call for other states,” said Elena Lacayo, field coordinator with the Immigration Policy Project at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the nation’s largest advocacy group for Hispanics.
Lacayo, who has followed the effects of SB 1070-type legislation in other states, said that despite the far reaching nature of some of the bills, it was the economic backlash in Arizona after SB 1070 that helped other states realize the costly consequences of anti-immigrant laws.
Latinos across the country have naturally come out against “the new Jim Crow laws,” she added, because they feel threatened. The response has been aggressive, she said.
To date, five states have passed anti-immigrant legislation modeled on SB 1070: Alabama, Indiana, Utah, South Carolina and Georgia. While such moves have encouraged groups opposed to undocumented immigration, like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the fact that 27 states opted against similar bills suggests a far greater reaction against it.
SB 1070 took partial effect in Arizona on July 29 after several controversial parts of the bill were enjoined by a federal judge, including provisions that would allow local police to check on the immigration status of individuals and requiring immigrants to carry their paperwork with them at all times.
According to a report from the Center for American Progress, Arizona lost upwards of $140 million in revenue from conventions the state would have hosted due to a boycott against SB 1070. The state’s image abroad also took a serious hit, the report noted.
“They are starting to realize that when you create an inhospitable environment (for immigrants), there’s a ripple effect,” said Angela Kelley, vice president for Immigration Policy and Advocacy at the Center for American Progress, a non-partisan think-tank based in Washington, D.C.
Kelley cited the example of Kentucky, which reversed efforts to pass its own version of SB 1070 after reviewing a fiscal-impact study that estimated it would cost $89 million per year to enforce.
In Arizona, Senate Republicans recently defeated five new anti-immigrant pieces of legislation, some aimed at denying birthright citizenship, after they received a letter from 60 CEOs in the business community cautioning them about an already harmful boycott.
Even in states like Georgia, which passed a law that, among other things, requires employers to verify the immigration status of prospective employees via the federal E-Verify system, groups like the Georgia Farm Bureau argue the law will lead to a shortage of agricultural workers.
“I really think [SB 1070] pushed the debate to another level, given how extreme it is,” said Lacayo with NCLR. “It pushed a lot of folks that never speak out about immigration to come out of the woodwork,” she added.
The failure of anti-immigrant bills in states like Florida and Texas were also significant because of the political momentum they could have carried, she noted.
In Texas, a bill put forward by Republican Governor Rick Perry, who wanted to put an end to “sanctuary cities” -- localities that have policies preventing the police from questioning a person’s immigration status – was rejected during a special session earlier this month.
“We barely defeated it. If this was so close to passing in Texas no state is immune,” said Democratic Texas Senator Leticia Van de Putte, who sees the narrow victory as a wakeup call for the business community to stand up in opposition against the bill.
States that did pass copycat legislation, meanwhile, faced strident challenges from civil rights coalitions and the federal court system. In Georgia, Indiana and Utah, federal judges blocked key provisions that came under fire from coalitions led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).
“Judges are really understanding that what states are doing is encroaching in an area that is strictly the federal government’s,” said Andre Segura, an ACLU staff attorney at the Immigrant Rights Project in New York who is involved in the lawsuits.
¬Segura said that among the states that passed anti-immigrant legislation, Utah was a surprise because of the state’s support for the “Utah Compact,” a declaration of principles that emphasized the need for federal immigration reform. Utah’s law, which was blocked by a federal judge, included provisions that would have turned police officers into immigration agents, as well as one that created a state guest worker program.
Lacayo said that even the guest-worker program in the Utah bill was problematic because it was virtually unenforceable and could actually put undocumented immigrants more at risk by forcing them to come out of the shadows.
All eyes are now focused on Alabama’s HB 56, which is set to go into effect on September 1, pending a request for a stay to be argued mid- August.
Alabama is home to an estimated 180,000 undocumented immigrants, far less than the estimated half-a-million in Arizona. Still, the state is currently pushing one of the most far-reaching copycat bills to emerge since SB1070.
“Alabama is by far the worst,” said Segura from the ACLU. “It is Arizona’s SB 1070 on steroids.”
HB 56 would not only make it a crime for a person to be an undocumented immigrant in the state, but would also criminalize those who are found transporting such individuals.
According to Segura, the law goes even further by requiring parents to reveal their own, as well as their children’s immigration status to schools, with the potential that such information will be shared with immigration authorities.
Grassroots organizing has been key to blocking these bills, said Lacayo. But in states like Alabama, resources are limited given the fact that most organizations catering to the immigrant population are relatively new, tracking the rapid growth of this demographic, she noted.
Caitlin Sandley, lead organizer for the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, said her organization is overwhelmed.
“People are leaving or they are preparing to leave,” she said.
Based in Birmingham, Sandley’s group is trying to galvanize opposition to HB 56 while working around the clock to provide legal aid to families leaving Alabama, including offering help with documents, power of attorney, notarization, etc.
Sandley credits SB 1070 with giving ammunition to local Republicans running for the State Legislature on the platform of fighting illegal immigration, many of them backed by the Tea Party movement. But she says the climate for anti-immigrant legislation has been brewing for at least five years.
Others say SB 1070 was less the catalyst and more a symptom of a movement that is in fact more anti-Latino than anti-immigrant.
“The reality is that the sentiment we are seeing, the hijacking of the immigration debate by the nativist and extremist movements, has led to 1070 and to the spread of racial profiling legislation in other states,” said Clarissa Martinez, immigration director with NCLR. “At the end of the day SB 1070 is little about immigration and a lot about racial profiling and spreading anti-Latino sentiment and that’s what’s making it so dangerous.”
Lacayo and NCLR have identified groups like the State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI), of which SB 1070 author Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce is a member, as organizations leading the charge in pushing for anti-immigrant legislation.
“This is a concerted effort on the part of the anti-immigrant movement,” said Lacayo, who notes that the spread of copycat bills like SB 1070 may in fact push the federal government to reopen the debate on immigration reform.
“We really hope that this will help build momentum for reform at the federal level,” she said.