Arizona-Style Immigration Laws Lose Steam

April 23rd marks the first year anniversary of the passage of Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration law, SB 1070. One year ago, election campaign was under way and anti-immigrant sentiment was running high as many politicians made stricter immigration laws a battle cry.

Immigrant advocacy and civil rights groups criticized SB 1070 as legalizing racial profiling, while restrictionists and anti-illegal immigration groups lauded the State’s draconian initiative. The fate of SB1070 will be determined once a federal appeals court issues a ruling, although many predict that regardless of the decision, the legislation will likely reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lawsuits have prevented the most controversial parts of the Arizona law from being enforced but this has not prevented other states from proposing legislation mimicking it. Arizona-style bills have been proposed in many states in the past year.

Recently however, in at least ten states these legislative proposals have failed. The legislatures of Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Virginia, Wyoming and, most recently, Mississippi, have all rejected similar anti-immigration legislation, at least for the time being.

One of the more closely-watched of these states was Mississippi, where the package of about 30 immigration bills advanced included proposals imposing an English-language requirement in obtaining a state driver’s license and denying public benefits to the undocumented population. The most contentious of these bills is SB 2179 which would allow stop-and-search enforcement and criminalize failure to carry an alien registration document, provisions not unlike the ones in the Arizona law. This bill quietly died in the legislature recently after failing to meet a deadline.

Even within Arizona, it seems that the anti-immigrant bug has failed to catch on as a new slew of immigration bills was killed at the state Senate. Some of the proposals in these unsuccessful bills would require the eviction of anyone on public housing who lives with an illegal immigrant, criminalize driving by an undocumented immigrant, and require medical practitioners to report undocumented immigrants.

Many believe that Arizona’s SB 1070 and copycat legislation would not survive at the Supreme Court. One of the strongest legal arguments against these laws is the doctrine of “preemption” which is rooted in the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause.

Essentially, this means that when it comes to immigration policy, federal law takes precedence over state-enacted regulation. The 14th Amendment also presents a significant legal hurdle to nativist legislation denying birthright citizenship.

Many immigrant supporters also raise the economic case against anti-immigrant laws, aside from the obvious potential civil rights violations that may arise from their enforcement. It is estimated that Arizona suffered a loss of more than $250 million from the economic boycotts in the wake of SB 1070, in addition to the government’s litigation costs in the seven lawsuits challenging the legislation.  The mayor of Phoenix predicts that SB1070 would cost the city at least $90 million over 5 years.

In 2008, the economic analysis firm Perryman Group found that that if all of the country’s 8.1 million undocumented immigrants left the U.S., the economy would lose about $2.8 trillion in annual spending.