Moving Forward: Elections Underscore Need for Progressive State Immigration Policies


Last week's midterm elections herald the possibility of a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping many statehouses, and underscore the need for common-sense, progressive state immigration policy that expands opportunity for all residents, immigrant and native-born alike, and welcomes immigrant contributions to state and local economies and communities. 

While several high-profile U.S. Senate candidates such as Nevada's Sharron Angle ran (and lost) their races after producing racist and inflammatory ads that sought to play on unfounded connections between immigrants and crime, other extremist members of state legislatures are seeking to make immigration a wedge issue and a moment for political opportunism. A few anti-immigrant state legislators are even attempting to rewrite the U.S. Constitution with efforts to strip U.S.-born children of immigrants of their citizenship by repealing the 14th amendment. Others have made themselves the subject of public ridicule by being the first in their state to file anti-immigrant legislation - regardless of its legality. 

Such attempts to overhaul the nation's laws and values are unlikely to succeed - instead, progressives would do better to focus on ways state laws can address the reality of immigration being a net-positive for state and local economies across the nation.  In fact, a host of recent economic studies point to the positive effect immigrant workers and entrepreneurs have on the American economy - even during a recession - and their potential to provide much-needed support to state and local tax bases.  Finally, many see a direct connection between anti-immigrant state and local policies (including unprecedented and broad state legislation such as Arizona's SB 1070 that criminalizes immigrants; misguided and ineffective efforts to deputize state and local law enforcement as immigration agents through the 287(g) program; and programs such as Secure Communities that erode immigrants' due process rights) and their costs to states already suffering from historic budget crises.  

It is no coincidence that Arizona, the current epicenter of anti-immigrant legislation for the past few years, is also home to one of the nation's highest foreclosure and unemployment rates. The state is also projected to lose at least $90 million over the next five years in tourism and convention revenue after groups vowed to avoid the state in the wake of its passage of SB 1070.  Fremont, Nebraska, which approved an anti-immigrant ordinance in July this year, is now facing an 18% increase in property tax rates to cover the estimated $750,000 in legal costs to defend its local law in court. 

In the maelstrom of misinformation and political scapegoating aimed at immigrants, progressive state legislators can help cut through the rhetoric by introducing common-sense legislation that aims to:

  • protect the rights and wages of all workers; 
  • keep communities safe by allowing police officers to focus on doing their jobs; 
  • work to integrate immigrants into local institutions, including state universities and community colleges; and,
  • welcome the entrepreneurial energy of immigrant small business owners. 
Progressive States Network provides model policies for legislators and legislative staff who are interested in advancing these measures. And State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy - a dynamic and rapidly-expanding group of lawmakers affiliated with Progressive States Network - is already working to do just this by introducing positive immigration legislation for the 2011 legislative session in states across the country. Click here to learn more about this group and their work.

Full Resources

Feet in 2 Worlds Blog - With GOP Victories, Harsh GOP Immigration Copycat Legislation Likely Across the Country
Center for New Community - The Tanton Network's Assault on the 14th Amendment Continues
Immigration Policy Center - The Folly of Repealing Birthright Citizenship
Giovanni Peri, Migration Policy Institute - The Impact of Immigrants in Economic Recession and Expansion
Immigration Policy Center - The Secure Communities Program: Unanswered Questions and Continuing Concerns
Progressive States Network - Arizona and the Nation: A Failing State Versus Positive Approaches to Immigrant Integration
The Washington Post - Arizona Tourism Loses More Business In Wake of Immigration Law Vote
Progressive States Network - Fremont, NE Considers Steep Property Tax Hike to Defend its Anti-Immigrant Law
Progressive States Network - Immigration-Related Bills to Move in 2011 Legislative Sessions