Major Report by the National Immigration Forum – SB1070Report.pdf


FULL REPORT (PDF) SB1070Report.pdf (application/pdf Object)


The historic 2010 mid-term elections gave the Republican Party unprecedented control of statehouses and Governors’ mansions, and returned Republicans to control of the United States House of Representatives. Spurred by a motivated Republican base and capitalizing on economic anxiety, the party was able to achieve substantial gains all over the country but particularly in Midwestern states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. Their electoral showing ensures that in many states, Republicans will have a very strong hand in a period teeming with high stakes legislative battles, especially around the issue of immigration, as more and more states attempt to step into a role meant for the federal government.

As Congressional debate on immigration reform has stalled, the number of state-based immigration laws has increased dramatically. In 2008 alone, 1,305 bills were considered by various state legislatures, 206 were enacted, and three were vetoed. Many of these new laws are attempts to enforce federal immigration law, and some are more far-reaching than others. In the spring of 2010, Arizona made history with a law that went further than any other.

On April 21st, 2010, Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” commonly referred to as SB 1070. Overnight, Arizona became home to the nation’s harshest and most controversial immigration law and simultaneously created a public policy, legal, and electoral ripple effect that would be felt all over the country.

Specifically, the new law makes it a state crime to fail to apply for or carry proper immigration documentation and gives police broad power to detain those suspected of being unlawfully present in the country. Further, SB 1070 allows citizens to sue law enforcement agencies whose enforcement efforts they consider to be insufficient and toughens laws against the performance of work by unauthorized immigrants and the transport or harboring of persons lacking valid immigration status.

Several key policy and public safety questions surrounding Arizona’s new law remain unanswered by proponents. For example, independent analyses of the potential cost of the new law to the state have demonstrated that it is prohibitively expensive. Add in Arizona’s already massive budget deficit, and it’s hard to see how Arizona can afford to enforce its new law. Additionally, the new law triggered a national backlash that hurt the state’s tourism and convention industry, exacerbating Arizona’s already severe budget and economic woes. Multiple lawsuits triggered by the legislation will cost the state millions as it will have to defend the new law in court. Proponents, including Governor Brewer, have not demonstrated how Arizona, or any other state, can possibly afford a law like SB 1070, which forces states to play a role meant for the federal government. Similarly, they have not addressed the persistent public safety concerns presented by the new law.

The law enforcement community has said SB 1070 will make it more difficult for them to do their jobs, make communities less safe, and engender a fear of law enforcement in the very communities they are meant to protect.

Politically, the law had a stunning effect on races and campaigns in Arizona and the rest of the country. While her signature on the harsh new law catapulted Jan Brewer to a Republican primary win later in the summer (and probably into the Governor’s mansion), the law had a powerful and negative impact on the Republican brand among the nation’s fastest growing electoral demographic: Latino and immigrant voters.

Spurred into action by the extremist rhetoric triggered by Arizona’s controversial new immigration law immigrant, Latino and Asian voters turned out in higher than expected numbers and flexed their growing electoral muscle on November 2nd. As a result, pro-immigrant candidates won re-election and Democrats retained control of the United States Senate. According to polling, immigration reform had become a litmus test issue for Latino voters, and it was the second most important issue to this demographic, behind the economy and jobs. Simply put, the Republican brand suffered among Latino and immigrant voters as a result of perceived Republican cheerleading of Arizona’s controversial new anti-immigrant measure.

Meanwhile, partially as a result of Arizona’s new law, the debate over immigration in other places turned ugly. A combination of the federal government’s decades-long neglect of the broken immigration system and the harsh rhetoric of some anti-immigrant candidates helped create a toxic political environment in many states that led some elected leaders and candidates in several states to campaign on fear of immigrants and immigration.

While the scapegoating of immigrants was not unique to one party, a particularly vocal faction of the Republican Party captured the public’s attention in their effort to drive negative messages about immigrants and immigration reform. In fact, after the passage of SB 1070 in Arizona, several state legislators—mostly Republican—signaled their intent to introduce harsh anti-immigrant “copycat legislation” based on Arizona’s SB 1070 in their own states.

While some state legislators may opt for harsh anti-immigrant legislation, they should heed Arizona’s cautionary tale. The new law triggered a national firestorm, cost the state millions in revenue, and caused irreparable damage to the state’s reputation. Arizona’s passage of the law sparked a national outcry whose effects will be felt for years, and it guaranteed the state will spend millions defending their controversial new law in the courts when their budget shortfall is at near record levels. States must ask themselves whether it’s good policy to pursue costly anti-immigrant measures or whether it makes more sense to use their powers to urge the federal government to finally fix the broken immigration system.

Each state is unique, and because of a constellation of factors, some are more likely than others to pass harsh, controversial measures. In some states, legislators are awaiting the decisions of the courts to decide how they should move forward. Of course, an Arizona-type law isn’t the only option available to lawmakers, and some will undoubtedly pursue some less controversial measures as they try to craft policies to fill the void created by the federal government’s neglect of the immigration system. In some others, efforts to pass an Arizona-type bill will run into a brick wall in the form of a veto-wielding governor or a vehement state-based opposition.

The exact number of states that will pass harsh immigration enforcement laws depends on a number of factors. We can, however, be certain that the immigration battle in state legislatures in 2011 and 2012 will have a profound impact on independent voters’ perception of leadership in troubled economic times, immigrant voters’ support of elected officials, and on the nation’s recognition of the value of immigrants and immigration.

Thus, Republicans are presented with a choice: Will they use their newfound political clout to pursue harsh immigration enforcement legislation that is prohibitively expensive, endangers public safety, will result in costly lawsuits, undermines local economies, and turns off a key and growing voting demographic? Or, will they use their new power to lead states to practical solutions, court a powerful new Latino and immigrant electorate and pave a way for their party to make even more gains in 2012?


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