States Continue to Reject Broad Anti-Immigrant Laws as Concern About Economic Effects Grows

As another round of state legislatures begin to wrap up their 2011 sessions and a flurry of positive action on immigration continues to gain momentum, it is becoming increasingly clear that anti-immigrant bills have failed to gain much traction at all in state legislatures across the nation. Even Arizona, which led the anti-immigrant charge by passing the now-infamous SB 1070 last year, is now reconsidering the wisdom of its actions and surveying the resulting destruction of its economy. Arizona’s legislature killed numerous additional anti-immigrant proposals earlier this session after a group of sixty CEOs of companies sent a letter to State President Russell Pearce outlining the devastating effect SB 1070 and the resulting boycotts have had on the state, including over 3,000 lost jobs in the tourism industry alone.

In the last week alone, two more states defeated proposals modeled on Arizona’s SB 1070, bringing this session’s grand total of states defeating copycat bills to twelve. The latest additions to the list are Tennessee and Oklahoma, which both saw their anti-immigrant bills fail in the past week, largely in response to questions and concerns about high implementation costs from legislators and advocates alike.

In Tennessee, State Rep. Joe Carr (R), the prime sponsor of HB 1380, pulled his bill, which sought to grant state law enforcement officers broad authority to stop and apprehend individuals they believe had a “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented. Carr cited critics’ concerns the bill would result in a greater burden on the strained state budget: according to the state budget analysis group, these would include an annual $9 million in additional costs and over $950,000 in unfunded mandates for local governments associated with interrogating and detaining immigrants. This session also included bills to allow municipalities to bar refugees from being resettled in their communities and another proposal to bar undocumented students from enrolling in public school - both proposals were defeated.  

Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s SB 1070 copycat proposal, HB 1446, was defeated after legislators on both sides of the partisan aisle expressed concerns about its high implementation costs. The state’s business and faith leaders also spoke out forcefully against the bill, citing the likelihood it would harm the state’s already-struggling economy. Oklahoma also has the dubious distinction of passing a previous broad anti-immigrant bill in 2007 which was subsequently barred by the state courts. The previous law barred undocumented residents from accessing any form of public services (a provision already part of federal immigration law) other than emergency medical care. This exception was, unfortunately, not enough to assuage the fears of the state’s undocumented residents, who were afraid that visiting state emergency rooms would result in their deportation. In fact, many immigrant families living in fear avoided accessing emergency medical assistance, resulting in at least one death of a US citizen - a child born to undocumented immigrants who could have sought care for their child’s preventable medical condition.

Finally, Georgia, one of only two states to pass an anti-immigrant law earlier this year that closely mirrors Arizona’s, is already feeling the heat from business and faith leaders as well as immigrant rights advocates. Farmers and the agricultural industry worry that immigrant workers will shun the state, jeopardizing lucrative cash crops like Vidalia onions, which are a $140 million annual industry in Georgia and depend on the manual labor of immigrant workers, some of them undocumented.

Aries Haygood, a farmer with 500 acres of Vidalia onions, depends on immigrant manual labor and told a reporter he was concerned about the impact of Georgia’s anti-immigrant law will have on his workforce:

“Our biggest fear is that because of the way the bill could be structured we won't be able to find enough workers to do the work that we need done in a short amount of time.”

Clearly, many other states share these same concerns at a time when when we can ill-afford reckless and harmful economic policy.

Full Resources from this Article

States Continue to Reject Broad Anti-Immigrant Laws as Concern About Economic Effects Grows

Associated Press - States’ Immigration Efforts Fizzle
Progressive States Network Blog - Connecticut Poised to Become 13th State to Adopt Tuition Equity Legislation
Progressive States Network - As Obama Touts National Immigration Reform, Flurry of Positive Action in the States
The Arizona Republic - SB 1070 Copycats Losing Ground
Phoenix Business Journal - CEOs to Lawmakers: Back Off Immigration
Nashville Public Radio - Two of Carr’s Three Immigration Bills Deferred a Year
Progressive States Network - Utah Legislatures Passes Trio of Well-Intentioned But Misguided Immigration Bills
DMI Blog - When Silence on Immigration Becomes Deadly
News Oklahoma - House Votes Down Immigration Bill
National Public Radio - Georgia Farmers Brace for New Immigration Law - Immigration Crackdown Worries Vidalia Onion County
Progressive States Network - Fact Sheet: The High Cost of Immigration Enforcement for States

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