Local Immigration Laws: Trend and Counter-Trend

Local immigration laws seem to be all the rage. Although it received most of the blame – or credit – for the recent flurry of home-grown immigration laws, passed by states and localities, Arizona is far from the only jurisdiction to do so. You may recall that plucky little Hazelton, PA, decided to pass its own local immigration law that would have penalized illegal immigrants by fining landlords who rented to them, and denying business licenses to companies that employed them. (See City Loses Appeal on Who Pays Plaintiffs, Hazelton Standard Speaker, 07.Nov.2010.)

The Hazelton law has been tangled up in litigation for months now, and, according to the Hazelton Standard Speaker, a three-judge panel recently ruled that the city of Hazelton is on the hook to pay the entire $2.4 million in court costs that were awarded to plaintiffs in a constitutional challenge to the law, after the city’s insurance carrier refused to pay. As the Standard Speaker notes, a U.S. district court found the Hazelton immigration ordnance unconstitutional back in 2007, a decision upheld in September by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and soon to be appealed to the Supreme Court.

One would hope this might serve as a cautionary “don’t-try-this-at-home” narrative for other state and local legislatures that hope to surf the wave of voter discontent and nativist anger, but anti-immigrant forces are afoot in several states, seeking to pass new state and local laws that would crack down on illegal immigrants. In Texas, for example, conservative state legislators have introduced several new bills of this nature, including a measure modeled on Arizona’s infamous S.B. 1070. (See Voter ID, Arizona-Style Immigration Law on Texas Legislature’s 2011 Agenda, by Dave Montgomery, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, published in the Miami Herald, 09.Nov.2010.) Although newly-reelected Texas governor, Rick Perry, has publicly distanced himself from the proposed Texas version of S.B. 1070, the Miami Herald points out that “polls have shown the proposal has strong public support.”

Not everyone is drinking the S.B. 1070 Kool-Ade, however. A recent article in Mother Jones magazine notes that several prominent Utah conservatives – including business, political, and religious leaders – have agreed on a statement of principles that avoids demonizing illegal immigrants and recognizes immigration enforcement as a federal activity. (See Utah Conservatives vs. Arizona-Style Immigration Laws, by Suzy Khimm, Mother Jones, 12.Nov.2010.) The Mother Jones article quotes a recent article from the Salt Lake Tribune, summarizing the key points of what has been called the “Utah Compact,” saying:

“The compact was set up as an immigration policy document designed to reduce angry rhetoric and emphasize empathy and economic contributions made by undocumented workers within the state. The compact declares immigration a federal issue, not one that should be handled by Utah. It also says scarce law enforcement resources should focus on crime, not on civil violations, such as illegal immigration.”

Supporters of the statement span the political spectrum, and include the Mormon Church, the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City, as well as Utah’s Republican Attorney General and a conservative Utah think tank. Despite what appears to be broad agreement that S.B. 1070 would not be welcome in Utah, Mother Jones reports that “A GOP state legislator is still planning to introduce an enforcement-heavy bill to combat illegal immigration in Utah, albeit a proposal that’s comparatively less harsh than Arizona’s.” At a time when many states are contemplating harsh new – and home-grown – immigration restrictions, it’s good to hear some voices of moderation.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.