Despite the initial hype that anti-immigrant legislation modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070 would spread quickly through the country, state after state has rejected proposals to follow Arizona down its failed path. In the year since SB 1070 was signed, 24 states have rejected copycat legislation. Even Arizona legislators recently voted down a new set of anti-immigrant bills in response to mounting pressure from the business and civil rights leaders.
In some cases, states have rejected the flawed legislation twice over. For example, last week, Florida became the second state to reject SB 1070 copycat legislation for the second time since SB 1070 was passed in Arizona (Kansas having been the first). The debate there was contentious and controversial. Indeed, even the sponsors of anti-immigrant legislation began to walk away from their own proposals, leaving their bills to die at the very end of the legislative session. Florida got the message too and recognized that extreme anti-immigrant legislation comes with great economic, social, and political costs.
Unfortunately, not all states have learned the lesson from the failed experiment in Arizona.
Earlier this week, Utah’s Arizona-copycat law HB 497, the “Utah Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act,” was implemented for less than a day before it was put on hold by the courts. And today, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law HB 87, the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011,” harmful anti-immigrant legislation modeled after Arizona’s widely criticized and unquestionably flawed SB 1070. Both of these bills mimic the draconian Arizona legislation, providing local law enforcement with an overly broad license to investigate residents’ immigration statuses, thus, opening the doors to racial profiling.
States must ask themselves what Arizona has gained from pursuing this extremist approach to immigration reform. Instead of solving the problem, SB 1070 has inspired boycotts that cost Arizona hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism revenue and economic activity at a time when the state could least afford it. Governor Brewer has pumped $250,000 of public funds into a public relations campaign to repair the state’s tarnished image and continues to spend money defending SB 1070 against lawsuits, despite multiple court rulings upholding the unconstitutionality of the law.
Both Utah and Georgia are walking down the same failed path paved by Arizona lawmakers. These damaging pieces of legislation threaten the public safety and civil rights of state residents and will force both states to endure the same legal battles and financial losses that ensued in Arizona. Utah’s HB 497, which was signed by Utah Governor Gary Herbert on March 16 with a package of immigration bills, is already being challenged in court by civil right groups who argue that it violates federal law. Similar to Arizona, it is unclear how long or costly this legal battle will become.
Choosing to pursue the same course of action will also negatively impact the economy in both Utah and Georgia. A day before the Georgia law was even signed, new reports showed concern over the expected losses that would follow its approval. Opposition came from the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Georgia Farm Bureau. Even professional athletes scheduled to play at the Civil Rights Game in Atlanta this weekend have spoken out against the law due to concerns over racial profiling.
Twenty-four states have already rejected the irresponsible approach to immigration reform pioneered by Arizona; Georgia and Utah should heed the warning that nothing good will result from this legislation. While the American public is legitimately frustrated with the federal government’s failure to advance real immigration solutions, states cannot respond by passing irresponsible laws that legitimize racial profiling; lawmakers must create solutions that will reform the immigration system at the federal level. Utah and Georgia legislators must be part of this discussion, and we call upon their congressional delegations to help draft comprehensive legislation that fixes America’s immigration system.
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/deepmedia