Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 9:48 am | Updated: 8:52 pm, Tue Apr 19, 2011.
When Arizona’s illegal immigration measure became law last year, legislators across the nation noticed its popularity and clamored to enact their own versions of SB 1070.
But before lawmakers could get to work, they took notice of the aftermath: Boycotts. Protests. Pushback from big business. A court ruling that put key provisions of the law on hold. Even Arizona’s Legislature rejected five new illegal immigration bills.
It all took a toll.
One year after SB 1070 was signed, 11 of the 22 states with similar bills ended up rejecting the proposals. The surviving bills are struggling in some states. Georgia’s legislature passed a bill that awaits the governor’s signature, and bills stand a chance in a few other states.
That’s far short of the unstoppable wave of new laws predicted by the National Council of La Raza, which called for a boycott of Arizona.
“It really hasn’t been as fast and furious as we would have expected,” said Elena Lacayo, the group’s immigration field coordinator. “A lot of people are coming out of the woodwork, especially the business and faith and law enforcement community.”
One roadblock was a U.S. District Court ruling that stopped four key provisions, saying the law incorrectly pre-empted powers reserved to the federal government. Appeals could carry on for years and cost millions. Some lawmakers said they want to let the courts sort out the provisions of SB 1070 to avoid a protracted and costly fight of their own.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform has helped Arizona defend itself and argued the state has powers to augment federal enforcement.
While disappointed in the legal setback, the group says states should feel comfortable with other measures to discourage illegal immigration.
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” communications director Bob Dane said. “One of the strongest tools in your toolbox at the local level – and you won’t run into legal obstacles – is requiring employers in your state to use E-Verify, making sure that employees are legally authorized to work.”
Dane also blamed big business for lobbying against tough measures so it could keep a cheap workforce.
Despite many bills failing this year, he sees momentum building for tougher laws because of high unemployment while large numbers of illegal immigrants continue to enter the U.S. Dane also sees action shifting to the states after Congress has repeatedly failed to secure the border and address other longstanding immigration matters.
He notes research by the National Conference of State Legislatures, which reported the number of immigration bills at state legislatures jumping from about 300 in 2005 to more than 1,400 last year.
“I think the process is speeding up,” Dane said. “We’re evolving from a sanctuary mentality to a fix-it mentality and the economy is pushing it this way.”
The journey of various illegal immigration bills has resulted in some surprising outcomes.
Ultra-conservative Utah gave police powers to verify immigration status in certain cases when people are arrested, yet it also created a guest-worker program.
The business and faith community pressed for the worker provision, which critics said amounts to amnesty.
The fate of immigration bills will be decided within weeks in most states as legislatures are nearing the end of their sessions.
The states where bills are most likely to advance now are Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama.
Other heavily Republican states have put the brakes on illegal immigration bills, or at least some components like making it a crime for undocumented immigrants to be in a state.
A 1070-inspired bill seemed a slam-dunk in Kansas, whose Secretary of State Kris Kobach helped draft SB 1070. But the bill died in a legislative committee.
“I think that’s significant that it’s Kansas and it’s not California,” Lacayo said. “It’s a middle-America state and they said no in a really big way. And it’s the home of Kris Kobach.”
The court ruling against some of SB 1070 and the response from the business community have stared to swing the pendulum the other way in the immigration debate, said Martine Apodaca, communications director for the National Immigration Forum. As time passes, it’s getting tougher to pass the immigration bills, he said.
“I do think the momentum isn’t on their side,” Apodaca said. “It’s failed in more places than it’s succeeded.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-6548 or email@example.com