Several States Seeking Arizona-Like Immigration Laws

The Arizona state legislature whipped up a froth of controversy nationwide – not to mention lawsuits – when Governor Jan Brewer signed S.B. 1070 into law last April. As originally written, S.B. 1070 required Arizona police to question people about their immigration status whenever the police had “reasonable suspicion” that someone they encounter is not lawfully in the United States. (See Arizona’s Enforcement of New Law – Suggestions for Immigrants, MurthyDotCom, 02.Jul.2010.) As we have noted on MurthyDotCom, Arizona police were to have this authority when they had “lawful contact” with such an individual; immigration questioning by Arizona police was not supposed to occur unless police had lawful contact, which is defined as a valid, unrelated reason for stopping an individual. Last July, a federal judge enjoined the “stop and ask” requirement in S.B. 1070, as well as the provision requiring that immigration papers be carried at all times.

Nonetheless, several states are now lining up to follow Arizona’s lead, and will consider their own versions of S.B. 1070 in the near future, according to recent articles in the New York Times and on (See More States to Follow Arizona Push for Tougher Immigration Laws, by Laura Litvan,, 28.Dec.2010 and Political Battle on Illegal Immigration Shifts to States, by Julia Preston, New York Times, 31.Dec.2010.) According to, a GOP lawmaker in Oklahoma plans to introduce a measure that would allow state authorities to seize and keep vehicles that transport undocumented immigrants, even when no smuggling is suspected, calling undocumented immigrants “human contraband.” The article also notes that legislators in Missouri and Mississippi are drafting legislation similar to Arizona’s, while several governors – specifically South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, Nathan Deal of Georgia, and Rick Scott of Florida all have pledged a legislative crackdown on illegal immigration.

The copycat states can’t say they haven’t been warned. A recent study by the National Immigration Forum argued that the costs of following Arizona’s immigration policy are too high to justify any putative benefit:

“While some state legislators may opt for harsh anti-immigrant legislation, they should heed Arizona’s cautionary tale. The new law triggered a national firestorm, cost the state millions in revenue, and caused irreparable damage to the state’s reputation. Arizona’s passage of the law sparked a national outcry whose effects will be felt for years, and it guaranteed the state will spend millions defending their controversial new law in the courts when their budget shortfall is at near record levels. States must ask themselves whether it’s good policy to pursue costly anti-immigrant measures or whether it makes sense to use their powers to urge the federal government to finally fix the broken immigration system. (See Deficits, Lawsuits, Diminished Public Safety: Your State Can’t Afford SB 1070, (PDF, 818KB) National Immigration Forum, 30.Dec.2010.)

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that five states are planning a coordinated action “to cancel automatic United States citizenship for children born in this country to illegal immigrant parents.” Although certain to face immediate court challenges on constitutional grounds, the measures would throw red meat to salivating anti-immigrant activists who are frustrated by a perceived lack of border enforcement by the federal government.

On the other side of the political ledger, a Democratic lawmaker in Maryland plans to offer a kind of state-level DREAM Act, a bill that would provide “in-state college tuition benefits to undocumented immigrants who have attended state high schools and whose parents are taxpayers,” according to the Washington Post. (See MD to Weigh Own ‘DREAM’ Tuition Act, by Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post, 30.Dec.2010.)

In a time of record budget deficits, when state legislatures already have their hands full with difficult decisions about taxes, school budgets, and public spending generally, one might expect state legislators to stick to their knitting, and leave immigration policy where it belongs: in the hands of the federal government. Perhaps state involvement is a necessary stage we have to go through, to convince the powers-that-be in Congress that a patchwork of state laws is no solution to our immigration problems; these can be resolved only on the national level and they need to get their heads out of the sand.

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