By Suman Raghunathan, YES! Magazine , August 11, 2010
Two weeks ago, a federal judge in Arizona halted implementation of many of the most draconian elements of Arizona's controversial anti-immigrant law, Senate Bill 1070, just hours before these provisions were set to take effect. In doing so, the court echoed a conclusion reached in several other recent court decisions, public opinion polls, and ballot measures on immigration policy around the country: States cannot enact broad and regressive laws that violate the Constitutional rights of residents, regardless of their immigration status.
Many of the copycat bills proposed in states around the country following the passage of Arizona’s law have met, or are poised to meet, similar fates.
Legislators in 22 states have so far announced plans to introduce anti-immigration legislation based upon SB 1070—though many are now revising their proposals in the wake of the recent federal court ruling that questions the law’s constitutionality—and others may do so in the weeks and months ahead.
Yet many of these copycat proposals have already failed. The legislatures of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Kansas rejected broad anti-immigrant bills or amendments. In Arkansas and Nevada, proponents of anti-immigrant ballot measures couldn’t secure enough signatures to get their proposals on the ballot this fall. Meanwhile, conservative governors in several states, including Florida, Texas, and California, have all made it clear they would veto broad anti-immigrant legislation, and business leaders and law enforcement groups have spoken out against adopting the Arizona approach in their states.
Why is the anti-immigrant movement failing so overwhelmingly? Contrary to the current media narrative, the anti-immigrant sentiments reflected in bills such as Arizona's are only held by a select few. Polls consistently show that voters want action on immigration, but that they favor comprehensive immigration reform over enforcement-only laws. A full 84 percent of voters who supported the Arizona law in a June 2010 national poll also supported comprehensive immigration reform. State legislators and elected officials are listening to this voter sentiment rather than allowing the voices of a few anti-immigrant political opportunists to shape the debate.
They also know these are simply bad public policy proposals that promise to decimate state economies and communities. Arizona’s economy has certainly suffered: It has one of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates, high budget deficits, and Latino business owners and consumers are leaving the state in droves. Boycotts in response to SB 1070’s passage are projected to cost the state at least $95 million in lost tourism and convention revenue alone over the next five years.
Arizona's immigration law offers us a choice between two long-standing traditions in U.S. history: fighting for human rights or looking away while they're eroded.
Rather than pursuing draconian policies that seek to exclude immigrants and fragment society, legislators are in fact championing policies that foster integration and a sense of community. They are ending the five-year waiting period for immigrant children and pregnant immigrant women to access state Medicaid and State Child Health Plus programs. They are extending in-state tuition rates at state universities to undocumented students—a policy currently in place in ten states. They are tightening enforcement of wage and hour protections, which apply to all workers regardless of their immigration status but are often exploited by unscrupulous employers who force undocumented workers to accept unsafe working conditions and unfair wage levels. And they are welcoming immigrant-owned small-business ventures—and their infusion of economic growth—into their communities as much as possible.
In fact, most of the nation’s police chiefs are rejecting Arizona’s ineffective approach to immigration enforcement and instead supporting measures like community policing legislation, which allow law enforcement professionals to build trust with residents to help solve crimes. Such bills allow state and local law enforcement to focus on the safety of their communities, leaving federal immigration agents, who are expressly trained to do so, to focus on immigration enforcement.
Policies that seek to exclude, segregate, and stigmatize foreign-born residents might be politically helpful to a small group of extremists, but they are also an assault on America’s values as a nation of immigrants committed to "liberty and justice for all." Thankfully, as the Arizona approach fails in state after state, we are seeing that elected officials and voters across the nation already recognize this fact.
Suman Raghunathan wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. The daughter of Indian immigrants and the former director of Chhaya Community Development Corporation, Suman has developed programs to engage immigrants in the electoral process at the NY Immigration Coalition and OneAmerica, including managing the nation’s largest voter registration project for new citizens. Most recently, Suman was an immigration policy consultant, developing progressive policy agendas for Demos and the Drum Major Institute. She is also an immigration policy specialist with the Progressive States Network.