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Arizona’s Immigration Law Spurs Copycat Legislation

by Marcelo Ballvé

Arizona's new get-tough immigration law has emboldened other state capitols to follow suit.

Legislators in at least 10 states -- Utah, Oklahoma, Colorado, Ohio, Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, and Maryland -- have called for laws that would mirror Arizona's Senate Bill 1070, according to the Progressive States Network and reporting by New America Media. (photo by Flickr user takomabibelot) Legislators in at least 10 states -- Utah, Oklahoma, Colorado, Ohio, Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, and Maryland -- have called for laws that would mirror Arizona's Senate Bill 1070, according to the Progressive States Network and reporting by New America Media.

First out of the gate to actually introduce a bill was South Carolina.

Along with 20 co-sponsors, Rep. Eric Bedingfield, a Republican, introduced a bill April 29 that, like Arizona's, requires law enforcement officials to check individuals' immigration status.

Some of the language in the South Carolina bill, which was posted on the legislature's website, is virtually identical to the most controversial portion of the Arizona measure signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer on April 23.

The South Carolina bill reads: "When reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt must be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person."

Civil rights advocates, like the Rev. Al Sharpton, blasted the same phrasing in the Arizona law as opening the door to ethnic profiling of Latinos and anyone else appearing foreign-born. Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the University of California, Davis School of Law, agrees the language is "very open-ended" and that some of the civil rights concerns over the Arizona law are warranted. But, he argues, successful legal challenges will likely focus on the far more clear-cut case that such laws usurp the federal government's constitutionally granted supremacy over immigration.

Even so, state capitals, county seats and city halls insist on trying to legislate immigration controls.

In 2007, for example, Oklahoma passed a hard-line immigration law that, while not as tough as Arizona's, imposed a set of controls on employers and made it a felony to harbor, shelter or transport undocumented immigrants.

This year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit struck down a section of the Oklahoma law pertaining to penalties on employers. The court said the Oklahoma measure was pre-empted in that area by federal law.

But that didn't frighten Oklahoma legislators away from the immigration issue. They are now cobbling together proposals that would outdo even Arizona. Republican Rep. Randy Terrill has said a bill he's authoring may go one step further and provide for the seizure and forfeiture of property of those caught in immigration violations. Latino communities in Oklahoma, who lived through panic and an exodus in the wake of the 2007 law, are bracing for a new crackdown, says Patricia Fennel, executive director of the Tulsa-based Latino Community Development Agency.

"With the legislature we have now, if that [new] legislation was introduced tomorrow, I think it would pass easily," says Fennel.

The controversial Arizona law may be emboldening immigration hardliners.

But as Oklahoma's own experience shows, states' efforts to curb illegal immigration -- and criminalize it -- pre-date Arizona's new bill.

But Arizona's action seems to have spread the idea that state-level immigration laws can get tougher. Mississippi passed a bill in 2008 that made it a felony for an undocumented immigrant to solicit or accept work in the state. Now, Mississippi legislators are calling for the state to adopt Arizona's tougher approach, according to Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance. The handful of state legislators known for their frequent "ranting and raving" about illegal immigration "ramped it up since Arizona," adds Chandler.

In Missouri, a broad bill to crack down on illegal immigration was being considered in the legislature as Arizona debated and passed its law. The Missouri bill, the subject of hearings last week, would make it a felony to knowingly transport or harbor an undocumented immigrant. But now the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Mark Parkinson, says he will go further and introduce legislation similar to Arizona's next year.

Utah is another state that has recently taken a hard tack on immigration. A Utah law, which went into effect last year, sought to prevent state employers from hiring undocumented immigrants and also made it illegal to harbor them. At the same time, undocumented immigrants are allowed in-state tuition in Utah schools, and the influential Mormon Church allows undocumented immigrants to be bishops.

Now, Republican Rep. Stephen Sandstrom says he's drafting a bill modeled on Arizona's. "With Arizona making the first step in this direction, Utah needs to pass a similar law or we will see a huge influx of illegals," he was quoted as saying in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Despite the rash of calls for copycat legislation, it is likely an attitude of caution will prevail in many places, says Suman Raghunathan, who tracks immigration policy for the New York-based Progressive States Network, which works with progressive state legislators nationwide.

In Texas, for example, some legislators have called for a local version of the Arizona law. But Gov. Rick Perry, a conservative Republican, has cautioned against doing that. So has the business community.

States aren't the only jurisdictions trying to craft their own immigration laws. Last year, Farmers Branch, a suburb of Dallas, Texas, passed an ordinance seeking to bar landlords from renting apartments to undocumented immigrants. That ordinance was struck down by the federal courts, as was a similar one passed a few years ago in Hazelton, Penn.

However, states and localities will continue taking matters into their own hands until Congress enacts federal immigration reform. Congressional action seems at least possible this year after Senate Democrats' release of an immigration reform blueprint last week.

Immigrant advocates like to point out that both the backers and detractors of Arizona-style laws agree that the nation's immigration system is broken. The question is when the U.S. Congress and White House will summon the resolve fix it.

"The crisis in Arizona today only shows what happens when the federal government fails to do its job," says Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

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