States Seek to Repeal Broad Anti-Immigrant Laws

As state legislatures begin to pick up speed early in the 2012 session, a growing number of states that passed broad anti-immigrant laws over the past two years are seeing the error of their ways. Citing widespread economic devastation, a dramatically-worsened business climate, and a loss of public support, four states out of the five that passed laws based upon Arizona and Alabama’s flawed models are now seeking to repeal their anti-immigrant laws.

In the last two weeks alone legislators have announced efforts to repeal state anti-immigrant bills in Georgia, Utah, Arizona (home to SB 1070, the first broad foray into misguided state-level immigration enforcement), and Alabama — where legislators are reportedly seriously considering rewriting HB 56.

Alabama’s law set a new floor for anti-immigrant proposals that encourage racial profiling, imposed barriers to children getting a public school education, and burdened law enforcement with onerous and often unfunded immigration enforcement responsibilities. Alabama’s case is particularly instructive given a new University of Alabama study released just this week which found that implementing the law would result in devastating annual losses of up to 140,000 lost jobs, an $11 billion reduction in the state’s GDP, and up to $265 million in lost state tax revenue.

Georgia, whose House Democratic Caucus announced its effort to repeal its anti-immigrant laws at a packed public hearing last week, also introduced a companion proposal to delay implementation of the flawed federal E-Verify program — which has been shown to be a jobs killer due to its astronomical error rate — until 2015 for businesses with less than 50 employees.

Perhaps most notably, a growing number of legislators from states that have already seen the economically disastrous effects of misguided immigration enforcement are throwing their support behind a more measured approach to state immigration policy. State Senator Jerry Lewis, who replaced the now-infamous Senator Russell Pearce after his historic and unprecedented recall by Arizona voters last November, is one of the core backers of the Arizona Accord, a common-sense effort backed by a cross-section of leaders from the business, faith, government, and nonprofit sectors. The Accord’s common-sense principles — which mirror those of several state immigration “compacts” proposed in 2011 — reinforce the need for federal comprehensive immigration reform, the folly of burdening local police and sheriffs with immigration enforcement duties, the need to integrate immigrant families into communities statewide, the economic benefits immigrant workers bring to state economies, and the need for a humane and inclusive approaches to immigrant families and residents.

Senator Lewis’s support for the Arizona Accord reflects a political reality now being thrown into stark relief across the nation: elected officials with anti-immigrant platforms have steadily-dwindling public support. The recall of Senator Pearce by Arizona voters broadcasts this message loud and clear. Voters are increasingly looking for common-sense, pragmatic approaches to immigration — and it’s clear that state legislators from both sides of the aisle are listening.

(Alvin Melathe contributed to this article.)

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