Midway Through Session, Anti-immigrant Bills Continue to Fail Nationwide


While a few states (notably South Carolina) are coming perilously close to passing proposals based on Arizona’s now-infamous anti-immigrant SB 1070, a growing number have shifted gears in 2011 toward a more measured, practical, and progressive approach to state immigration policy. These states are reconsidering the wisdom of entertaining, let alone enacting, anti-immigrant bills that will only increase costs for cash-strapped states at a time when they are confronting historic budget deficits and painful decisions on how to trim -- not expand -- their state budgets.

With many states halfway through their legislative sessions, several have already rejected broad anti-immigrant proposals, including Colorado, Virginia, Kentucky, New Hampshire, and Wyoming. Nebraska State Senator Charlie Janssen, the chief sponsor of an SB 1070 copycat measure, recently acknowledged that even he didn't think he had the votes to pass his bill out of committee. In addition, several states (including Montana and South Dakota) have summarily defeated dubious proposals to revoke the US citizenship of children born to undocumented immigrant parents -- bills that directly (and intentionally, according to its own proponents -- seek to gut and challenge our Constitution. These triumphs of sanity over political opportunism reflect just how much states need sound and practical immigration polices that don't needlessly burden taxpayers, local police departments, court systems, prisons, and detention centers.

Fiscal notes, or cost analyses conducted by neutral government budgetary analysis agencies, have underlined the high costs (often tens of millions of dollars) associated with broad anti-immigrant state bills. By providing greater clarity and detail on the high costs of onerous state immigration enforcement and restrictive laws, many fiscal notes have actually served to help defeat these bills or diminish their changes of passage by simply outlining just how expensive it is for states to be anti-immigrant. Some state fiscal notes attached to anti-immigrant proposals that have successfully raised alarms include:

  • Utah’s Legislative Fiscal Analysts Office recently attached an $11 million price tag to Rep Stephen Sandstrom’s SB 1070 copycat proposal
  • Kentucky’s State Legislature recently estimated the cost of an anti-immigrant SB 1070 copycat proposal at a total $89 million per year (including $40 million per year in increased prison, court, and foster-care fees) -- a price tag that appears to have served to effectively defeated the bill

Arizona, ground zero for costly and ineffective anti-immigrant state legislation (and which even last year was home to one of the deepest state budget shortfalls as well as one of the nation's highest foreclosure rates) has already lost tens of millions of dollars in tourism and convention funding alone, and is projected to lose nearly $500 million in lost tourism revenue alone and roughly 3,000 jobs. In addition, Arizona's elected officials continue to break the bank with their anti-immigrant laws. Recent public records filings revealed Governor Jan Brewer's Border Security and Immigration Legal Defense Fund has already spent $1.5 million in legal fees to defend SB 1070 -- which itself remains on hold after a fall 2010 federal court ruling.

Other municipalities have literally paid the price for their anti-immigrant ordinances, according to data compiled by the Center for American Progress in a recent report:

  • Hazelton, Pennsylvania is in the tank for at least $2.8 million with some estimates totaling $5 million as it defends its ordinance all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Riverside, New Jersey, suffered a severe local economic downturn before the city rescinded its anti-immigrant ordinance.
  • Farmers Branch, Texas, has spent nearly $4 million in legal fees and is expected to spend at least $5 million to defend its anti-immigration statute with no end in sight.
  • Prince William County, Virginia, dramatically scaled back a tough immigration statute after realizing the original version would cost millions to enforce and defend in court.
  • Fremont, Nebraska (population roughly 20,000) increased the city’s property tax by 18% to help pay the estimated $750,000 in legal fees for its anti-immigration ordinance which it intends to defend.

For their part, police and law enforcement officers have shown little interest in adding the enforcement of federal immigration laws to their already-full plates. A number of police and law enforcement leaders have recently reiterated their opposition to enforcing federal immigration laws, including Houston and San Antonio, Texas' Chiefs of Police; Texas’ Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and law enforcement officers in Wyoming.

Voicing concern about the potential for racial profiling and loss of trust, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said, "Any state requirement that forces local law enforcement officers to enforce immigration laws is a really, really bad idea."

As anti-immigrant legislative efforts fail in 2011 sessions, a number of states that either considered passing anti-immigrant laws or defeated progressive immigration proposals in the past are now changing their tune. These states are instead pursuing common-sense, progressive state immigration legislation that expands opportunity for all residents, both immigrant and native-born -- measures that are garnering even broader support than before SB 1070's passage.

Tuition equity proposals have generated a particularly high amount of momentum this legislative session, with bills already introduced in ten states. These include some states that narrowly defeated similar proposals in past years, and where legislators previously opposed to tuition equity have updated their stances and are pledging their support. Oregon's bipartisan SB 742 was introduced by Republican State Senators Morse and Nelson, who previously voted against Oregon's tuition equity proposals in 2009. Senators Morse and Nelson are also working closely with colleagues in the Oregon House on a companion bill, along with a broad range of community and advocacy groups including the Oregon Students Association and Western States Center. In addition, Colorado's tuition equity bill, SB 126, 'Advancing Students for a Strong Economy Tomorrow' or ASSET, has gained several new Senate sponsors who also previously opposed the state's last tuition equity proposal in 2009. ASSET, which is also sponsored by State Representatives Miklosi and Williams, handily passed out of the Senate Education Committee in mid-February, and is expected to pass the Senate next week and move into the House for consideration.

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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