Arizona SB 1070 Copycats Fall Flat in Most State Legislatures

Nearly half of the bills have died, and many of the remaining are expected to fail as well. But all eyes are on Georgia as the potential next Arizona.

By Seth Freed Wessler Mar 31, 2011

At the start of the year, it appeared that Arizona’s SB 1070 would spread the country like wildfire, with at least 24 state legislatures having introduced copycat "show me your papers" bills since the original passed in spring 2010. But to date, none of those states have passed the bills and at least 10 legislatures have killed the bills altogether. Now, with many state legislative sessions coming to a close, the fight against SB 1070 copycat legislation appears contained to just a few key battlegrounds.

Converging forces have blocked the copycat bills’ success. On the one hand, the bills have spurred broad opposition from immigrant and civil rights groups, as well as from business interests. On the other, a ticking clock killed several bills as legislative sessions end before lawmakers have had time to pass the controversial laws–particularly in a season in which most state political debates are dominated by budget battles.

This week in Mississippi, a state where many feared the legislation could pass, the bill died after it failed to come to a vote before the session ended. The same outcome is expected in almost all of the 14 states with remaining bills this session.

Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, attributed the Mississippi bill’s failure to the breadth of the coalition opposing it. "It’s taken the leadership of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus and the African American community together with immigrants, not just Latinos, to mobilize people," he said.

Business lobbies have come out against the bills as well, arguing that the legislation hurts the economy. They look to Arizona, where the Center for American Progress estimates that boycotts against Arizona in response to SB 1070 could cost the state more than $250 million in taxes, tourist spending and wages. As a result, Arizona business lobbyists played a key role in killing a suite of new anti-immigrant bills this session.

"The tide is starting to turn," says Marisa Franco, an organizer with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, an immigrant rights groups that’s helping lead the national fight against SB 1070-style bills. "In a period where many states are worried about budgets, they are starting to see that the economic costs of passing the bills is too great."

While copycat legislation remains formally alive in as many as 14 states, few of the bills are expected to move forward. In some states, like California, the votes simply aren’t there to pass the bill. Earlier this month, the California bill’s author cancelled a committee hearing on the law.

Bills Still Moving in the South

The SB 1070-style laws remain alive primarily in a few southern states where conservative lawmakers continue pushing.

Georgia is currently closest to passing a bill. With only a handful of working days left before the state’s legislative session ends on April 14, a state senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that looks very similar to one passed by the house side earlier this week. The bills will now have to be reconciled and voted upon again. If the state passes the legislation, it will become the country’s first SB 1070 copycat bill.

According to Azadeh Shahshahani of the ACLU of Georgia, the bill is precariously close to passing, even after months of organizing against the legislation. In the past several weeks thousands of people arrived to protest at the state capitol and a coalition of groups including the state’s NAACP have come out in strong opposition.

"The civil rights groups are concerned, especially with increased racial profiling," said Shahshahani. "That’s brought us together."

Immediately to the north in Tennessee, where many believed a bill would pass, it is now looking less likely to do so, according to advocates who are organizing against the law. The state has postponed deliberations on the matter until after it passes a budget, which is expected to leave little time for other bills.

South Carolina’s copycat bill already passed the senate and is now in the house’s hands. That state’s legislative session does not end until June and opponents of the bill worry it could become law there.

Florida’s immigrant rights groups and business groups have built a strong opposition to the bill there, and momentum for passage is waning. Notably, the state’s Chamber of Commerce came out against the legislation, arguing that immigrants bolster local economies.

Beyond SB 1070-Style Bills

Beyond SB 1070 copies, other anti-immigrant legislation is also failing to pass in state legislatures.

Even Arizona tossed out a round of bills this year that would have barred undocumented immigrants from using hospitals, and attending public schools. Another bill would have done away with birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants.

The failure of these bills made it seem that the state of Arizona might have hit bottom and that those leading the anti-immigrant charge were losing support. Paying little attention to the shift, notorious Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Tuesday announced the launch of "Operation Desert Sky." The program will deploy 30 pilots into the air with M-16s to hunt border crossers.

Meanwhile, the federal government appears committed to pursuing another year of record setting deportations.

New data released this week by a coalition of immigrants and civil rights groups shows that the Obama administration’s signature deportation program is not targeting serious criminals, as has been claimed, but rather functioning as a deportation dragnet for all non-citizens. Most of those detained and deported as a result of the program, misleadingly called Secure Communities, have been convicted of no crime at all or of some low level violation.

Asraa Mustufa contributed reporting to this article.