Anti-immigrant Proposals Continue to Fail in Wake of Arizona’s Law

In the wake of the April 2010 passage of Arizona’s draconian and misguided anti-immigrant state law, SB 1070, which would give local governments responsibility to enforce federal immigration law, media coverage has focused on the many states, elected officials, and candidates who have voiced their support for similar anti-immigrant legislation.  Despite the disturbing situation in Arizona, however, what is increasingly becoming clear is that anti-immigrant policies and initiatives are failing across the country in the wake of SB 1070’s passage, underlining Arizona’s anti-immigrant approach as an outlier.

As this Dispatch will detail, after considerable media hype about Arizona-style bills sweeping across the nation, the reality is that from from Nevada to Arkansas to Massachusetts to Kansas and Rhode Island, anti-immigrant bills and ballot initiatives largely didn't move or failed to make this fall's ballot.  A key reason:  most state leaders and police chiefs recognize that requiring local governments to assume immigration enforcement responsibilities from the federal government will distract them from fighting violent crime and undermine trust with local residents that are essential to successful community policing.

Table of Contents:

- A Trend of Failed Anti-Immigrant Proposals

- Anti-Immigrant Laws Increase Crime and Hamper Community Policing Efforts

- Lawsuits Against AZ SB 1070 Seek to Maintain Clear Federal Responsibility for Immigration Law

A Trend of Failed Anti-Immigrant Proposals

In the wake of AZ SB 1070’s passage in late April, a far right network of groups and legislators announced plans to move bills in state around the country.  But the list of states rejecting those bills continues to grow and efforts to get anti-immigrant proposals on the ballot continue to fail.

Ballot Initiatives Fail in Nevada and Arkansas:  The latest state to join this list is Nevada, where Assemblyman Chad Christensen’s effort to gather signatures for an anti-immigrant ballot initiative similar to Arizona’s recently faltered in the face of a lawsuit.  Christensen’s effort was challenged by the Nevada Open For Business Coalition, a group that includes State Assemblymen Mo Denis and Ruben Kihuen as well as the Nevada Resort Association, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce, and the NAACP.  The coalition is also working with the Las Vegas Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.  The delay caused by the Coalition's multiple legal challenges caused Christensen, who recently lost a June 8 US Senate Primary, to drop his petition rather than attempt to get his broad anti-immigrant proposal on the ballot.

In Arkansas, the anti-immigrant group Secure Arkansas also failed to get its anti-immigrant proposal (which simply re-iterated existing federal law by seeking to bar undocumented immigrants over the age of 14 from receiving public assistance) on the November 2010 ballot.  Secretary of State Charlie Daniels rejected the group’s petition after finding they were nearly 10,000 signatures below the minimum required to appear on the ballot.

Anti-Immigrant Legislation Defeated or Blocked in Multiple States:  In both Massachusetts and Rhode Island, state leadership refused to allow anti-immigrant legislation to gain traction.  In Massachusetts, twenty-seven pages of anti-immigrant budget amendments that resembled Arizona's SB1070 was shot down and ultimately approved as a final bill which simply restated existing federal bars on undocumented immigrants accessing public benefits, and included no new anti-immigrant provisions.

Rhode Island’s anti-immigrant bill, introduced by conservative Democrat State Representative Peter Palumbo, did not even receive a public hearing earlier this summer:  the bill was ‘killed’ by House Speaker Gordon Fox, who voiced his opposition to the bill and reiterated that enforcing immigration laws remains the responsibility of the federal government.

And in Kansas,  when a conservative legislator sought to attach an Arizona-style anti-immigrant amendment to the state budget, Kansas Representative Delia Garcia challenged its late introduction on procedural grounds and the Republican chair of the chamber's Rules Committee ruled the amendment out of order.

Most High-Immigration States Have Taken a Positive Approach to Integrate New Immigrants:  As PSN detailed in a 2008 report, only 11% of undocumented immigrants live in states that have enacted comprehensive punitive anti-immigrant policies.  Far more states promote positive integration policies and believe leaving immigration enforcement policy to the federal government is the best approach.

Colorlines - The Far-Right Movement Behind Arizona Copycat Bill
Progressive States Network - The Anti-Immigrant Movement that Failed:  Positive Integration Policies by States Still Far Outweigh Punitive Policies
Progressive States Network - State Immigration Policy to Promote National Change

Anti-Immigrant Laws Increase Crime and Hamper Community Policing Efforts

One reason many leaders are rejecting Arizona-style anti-immigrant policies is the clear evidence that they undermine public safety.  Police chiefs nationwide, including the chiefs of Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, New York, Phoenix, and Tucson, have consistently underlined their opposition to local enforcement of federal immigration law, citing the dramatic and negative impact these approaches have on community members’ willingness to cooperate with the police -- and predicted they will increase crime.  Law enforcement leaders such as Salt Lake City Chief of Police Chris Burbank have voiced concerns that burdening them with enforcing federal immigration law will actually make communities less safe: witnesses will be less likely to assist police investigations for fear of disclosing their immigration status; women will fear reporting instances of domestic violence, and crimes will go unreported, affecting all residents' safety.

Recent evidence highlights this problem with anti-immigrant legislation.

More Immigrants Means Less Crime, Not More:  Overall, states with high immigration levels have actually seen their crime levels decrease; updated FBI and law enforcement data debunk any connection between higher levels of immigration resulting in more crime.  The Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that violent crime declined by 35% from 1994 to 2001 -- a period when the nation saw its undocumented population double.  This precipitous drop in crime is part of a national trend, one echoed along the U.S.-Mexico border and in immigrant-heavy cities such as San Diego, El Paso, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami.  In fact, even conservative groups found states with the steepest growth among their immigrant residents also report the lowest crime rates.  In these 19 states, the total crime rate declined nearly 14% from 1999 to 2006.

Arizona Itself Shows Failure of Anti-Immigrant Approach:  Evidence from Arizona highlights why local immigration enforcement is counterproductive to fighting crime.  The FBI reports that violent crime has been falling in Arizona for years -- even as the state’s number of undocumented residents rose.

The glaring exception to this trend in Arizona is Maricopa County, which falls under the jurisdiction of its notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  Arpaio has devoted considerable (and often-scarce) law enforcement resources to apprehending undocumented residents county-wide.  Arpaio’s insistence on apprehending otherwise law-abiding undocumented residents in high-profile (often televised) raids and routine stops of Latino drivers for immigration checks means the Sheriff’s Department has less time to focus on violent criminals and pursue felony warrants.  The East Valley Tribune, an Arizona newspaper, won a 2008 Pulitzer Prize for their multi-part series on the evolution and impact of Arpaio’s anti-immigrant pursuits.

Despite his ‘law and order’ rhetoric, Arpaio’s approach is a failed law enforcement strategy, and one that has apparently served to increase crime in his jurisdiction-contrary to state crime trends.  Recent data from the Arizona Department of Public Safety and compiled by America’s Voice found the Maricopa County crime rate increased by 58% from 2002 to 2009, while the state as a whole saw an average 12% decrease in crime rates.  Other Arizona localities that did not engage in broad raids and traffic stops saw their crime rates plunge during the same period: Phoenix enjoyed a 14% decrease in crime; Tempe saw a 26% decrease; and Mesa (Senator Pearce’s district) experienced a 31% decrease. 

Misinformation from the Anti-Immigrant Right:  Many anti-immigrant legislators and candidates have issued a steady drumbeat of misinformation that attempts to draw a connection between immigrants and crime.  AZ Governor Jan Brewer, State Sen Russell Pearce, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and national anti-immigrant groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) have attempted to justify and explain their efforts toward draconian state immigration legislation by claiming their proposals will make communities safer.

Yet even as Pearce and Brewer have, in fact, predicted that their state’s anti-immigrant measures will result in lower levels of crime throughout Arizona, evidence from Maricopa County shows that exporting Sheriff Joe Arpaio's brand of anti-immigrant policing will likely reverse the progress made in other parts of the state, imposing Maricopa's failed model on the the whole state.

Immigration Policy Center - Arizona's Punishment Doesn't Fit the Crime: Studies Show Decrease in Arizona Crime Rates Over Time
Immigration Policy Center - New FBI data Confirms Falling Crime Rates in Arizona: Violent Crimes Are Down in the State's Three Largest Cities
America's Voice - Arizona Immigration Law Could Lead to Surge in Violent Crime
America's Voice - Fact Sheet: Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Notorious Record
East Valley Tribune - Reasonable Doubt Series
Washington Post - US Police Chiefs Say Arizona Immigration Law Will Increase Crime
Americas Majority Foundation - Immigration and Wealth of States

Lawsuits Against AZ SB 1070 Seek to Maintain Clear Federal Responsibility for Immigration Law

As the evidence increasingly points to how local police and sheriffs enforcing immigration law undermines community policing and increases crime rates, it becomes even clearer why the  nation has traditionally kept responsibility for enforcing immigration law in the hands of federal officials.  But as PSN has detailed before, Arizona’s law, unprecedented in its scope if it is implemented, would land immigration enforcement (a federal responsibility) squarely in the hands of state government.

This blurring of immigration enforcement roles between federal and state officials has already been legally challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice and at least seven prominent national civil rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.  Both the U.S. Department of Justice and these civil rights groups have filed lawsuits against Arizona’s law which is scheduled to take effect on July 29 if a federal court does not impose an injunction.

Arizona's Law Undermines Federalism and Threatens Racial Profiling:  SB 1070’s scope is unprecedented, misguided, and likely unconstitutional:  the law not only makes it a crime to lack immigration status, but also allows state and local law enforcement to demand proof of citizenship or immigration status from anyone they believe has ‘reasonable suspicion’ of being undocumented.  Apart from greenlighting racial profiling, Arizona’s approach is widely perceived by legal experts as unconstitutional because it requires the state to take on enforcing federal immigration law.

A federal judge heard arguments outlining seven civil rights groups’ opposition to Arizona’s anti-immigrant law on July 22.  These groups are asking for a preliminary injunction to freeze implementation of the law, which is scheduled to go into effect on July 29th.

The lawsuit’s central legal argument (one echoed by the US Department of Justice’s own lawsuit challenging SB 1070) is the law seeks to pre-empt the federal government’s jurisdiction over enforcing federal immigration law, and that it allows the state too much power to enforce immigration law.  Finally, the groups’ lawsuit states that implementing the law would cause considerable harm to Arizona residents as a whole.  State legislators, immigrant rights advocates, and responsible law enforcement professionals will be hoping the federal courts agree.

Progressive States Network - Arizona and the Nation:  A Failed State Versus Positive Approaches to Immigrant Integration
Progressive States Network - Arizona Jeopardizes its Economic Future As it Contemplates Passing Anti-Immigrant Law
National Immigration Law Center - NILC and Civil Rights Groups Ask Court to Block Implementation of Arizona Law
American Civil Liberties Union Immigrant Rights Project - Friendly House vs. Halliday et. al: Arizona's Racial Profiling Law
Immigration Policy Center - The Impact of SB 1070:  Usurping the Federal Government's Ability to Set Clear Enforcement Priorities
Immigration Policy Center - The Legal Challenges and Economic Realities of Arizona's SB 1070
Progressive States Network - Polling, The Arizona Law, and Majority Support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Progressive States Network - Press Call: State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy