UPDATE @ 6:55 ET: North Carolina just became the 16th state to introduce an SB 1070 copycat bill. Unlike Arizona’s law, the North Carolina bill states that only a “law enforcement officer who is authorized by the federal government to verify or ascertain a person’s immigration status” may enforce the new law. The effect, as I discuss below in the context of other states, is a blurring of the lines between state and federal immigration enforcement programs.
In Arizona’s state legislature, racial profiling is so 2010. It introduced a set of anti-immigrant bills last week that make last year’s SB 1070 look a bit like a passing nuisance. But outside the Grand Canyon State, SB 1070 is far from last year’s news. A round of similarly crafted and in many cases more extreme bills are now spreading all over the country.
At least 16 state legislatures have introduced SB 1070 copycat bills in the current legislative session. They are undeterred by the suite of lawsuits that have thus far kept Arizona from implementing the most controversial elements of its law.
Arizona’s SB 1070, signed into law last year, made it a misdemeanor for non-citizens to be in the state without documentation. The law also made it a crime to shelter, hire or transport undocumented immigrants and required cops to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being undocumented. A federal judge has blocked the bulk of the law while courts weigh legal challenges. The Justice Department says the law unconstitutionally preempts federal authority to regulate immigration; civil rights advocates add that it legislates racial profiling.
The SB 1070 copycat laws now introduced across the country all look similar, though most have been tweaked to make them even more draconian. In four states—Indiana, Utah, Mississippi and Kentucky—at least one chamber of the legislature has passed an SB 1070-style bill. In 11 states considering bills—California, Georgia, Illinois, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas—the legislation is still in the committee process.
Who Will Pass the Next Bill?
It’s unlikely that all of these bills will become law, as they face real opposition, both inside and outside of the legislatures. A Colorado legislative committee already killed a copycat bill, for instance, and the same fate may befall the bills in other states.
In California, a bill introduced in January by Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who has previously been a member of the Minutemen, mimics SB 1070 but adds a set of other components, including a mandate for employers to implement the federal E-Verify program and an outright ban on so-called sanctuary city policies, which offer municipal protection against state and federal enforcement initiatives. Observers of California politics consider Donnelly’s bill a longshot at best there.
Tennessee and South Carolina, however, are widely expected to pass their bills. Both houses of Mississippi’s legislature have already passed legislation, but the bills are meaningfully different and need to be reconciled.
In Oklahoma, SB 1446 would not only authorize cops to check immigration status but would also allow law enforcement to confiscate the property of undocumented immigrants. The same bill would also make it illegal to hire undocumented workers and would bar undocumented students from in-state tuition at state colleges.
In Florida, copycat bills have been pre-introduced in both chambers, so they’re ready when the legislature returns on March 8. While Gov. Rick Scott has voiced his support for the law, some Republicans are less sure, raising concerns about the financial impact of bills like SB 1070. The Chamber of Commerce in that state has come out against the legislation, arguing that immigrants bolster local economies. Similarly, in Maine, where a Republican legislator says she has introduced an SB 1070-copycat bill (the bill’s language is still not available), business owners have joined a coalition of immigrant rights and civil liberties groups to oppose the bill.
Economics will be decisive in determining how the bills will play in each state. While anti-immigrant politicians have regularly played upon economic anxieties, the negative economic impact of bills like SB 1070 is starting to become clearer. The toll taken by opposition movements could be significant as well. The Center for American Progress estimates that boycotts agains Arizona in response to SB 1070 could cost the state more than $250 million in taxes, tourist spending and wages.
Some states may also be waiting to see the fate of Arizona’s SB 1070 in court, which is not likely to be settled until it makes its way to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, states that do pass their own versions are sure to face costly legal challenges from both the federal government and from advocates.
Unprecedented Wave of Legislation
The court challenges against Arizona’s SB 1070 are significant because they will determine whether and to what extent states can make their own immigration policies. But as in Arizona, the SB 1070 copycat bills sweeping the country may be the least immediate challenge states are creating for immigrants in day-to-day life. State and local governments are now considering a record number of bills to restrict immigrants from accessing public services, make it harder for undocumented immigrants to work and appoint local cops as immigration agents.
Hundreds of anti-immigrant bills fill state legislatures.
In Oregon, for example, conservative state legislators have decided not to introduce SB 1070-copycat legislation but, rather, have introduced a list of smaller bills, including one requiring employers to report undocumented workers. “The anti-immigrant groups know that 1070 has no chance and has no future in court,” explains Francisco Lopez, director of the Oregon immigrant rights group CAUSA. “So instead they break it up and hope some of it gets through.”
Texas is one of the states weighing an SB 1070 copycat bill, but Gov. Rick Perry, a likely 2012 presidential candidate, instead favors a ban on sanctuary city policies.
Arizona is however blazing ahead with a different, less piecemeal approach. Russell Pearce, the state’s conservative Senate president, introduced a set of bills that would essentially block undocumented immigrants from accessing anything public. One of those, SB 1611, makes it a crime for undocumented immigrants to drive in the state. The bill would also bar undocumented families from access to subsidized housing and require landlords to evict undocumented tenants from subsidized units. Another bill would force medical practitioners to report undocumented immigrants.
All of this legislation puts the Obama administration in a tricky position, both politically and legally. Many state lawmakers are crafting their bills to avoid the expensive, unattractive lawsuits that SB 1070-copycat bills will likely draw from the feds. They’ve couched their legislation within the confines of existing federal deportation programs.
In Virginia and Ohio, for example, legislatures will consider laws that create statewide 287g programs—a controversial federal initiative that deputizes local cops as immigration agents. That program has come under attack for facilitating racial profiling, much like the SB 1070.
That some governors and legislatures are using existing federal programs to pursue SB 1070-like ends begs the question of where the White House stands. On the one hand, the administration is suing Arizona over SB 1070, arguing that immigration enforcement is charged to the federal government, not the states. On the other hand, the administration is actively facilitating the devolution of immigration enforcement to the states.
The federal devolution is most pronounced in the rapidly expanding Secure Communities program, in which jurisdictions send immigration information on anyone booked into a local jail to ICE. ICE claims it targets only immigrants with serious criminal convictions, but the majority of the 60,000 people who have been deported through the program were convicted of either a low-level offense or no crime at all. The Department of Homeland Security wants Secure Communities implemented in all jurisdictions by 2013. If that happens, every local criminal justice system in the country would become an immigration enforcement agency.
The feds say these positions don’t contradict themselves, because 287g and Secure Communities agreements delegate federal authority to the states, while SB 1070-style laws attempt to usurp federal authority. But from the perspective of the immigrants living in the real world, that’s a distinction without a difference.
Seth Freed Wessler is a reporter/blogger for Colorlines.com.