Immigration Blueprint

Jeremy Duda//May 7, 2010

Immigration Blueprint

Jeremy Duda//May 7, 2010

Lawmakers in at least nine states are using Arizona’s immigration law as a test case to craft similar legislation, ratcheting up the pressure on the federal government to act before states enact a patchwork of laws that undercut federal authority.

Arizona’s S1070 opened a door that national anti-illegal immigration advocates had been pushing against for years. Groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform and its legal wing, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, have sought for years to create model legislation on illegal immigration that would withstand legal challenges and create a blueprint for states and cities that wanted to follow suit.

“Arizona is the … testing ground where all of these elements are going to come together, both on the political and the legal and cultural and the economic levels,” said Mike Hethmon, an attorney with the Immigration Reform Law Institute who helped craft S1070.

At the same time, opponents of S1070 are hoping Arizona’s example will deter states that are considering similar laws. Michele Waslin, a policy analyst with the liberal Immigration Policy Center, said other states should learn a lesson from the boycotts, protests and bad press over Arizona’s law.

“There’s been such a backlash to this bill, a nationwide backlash, and I think that other states are also going to see the negative impact that this is having on Arizona in terms of the economic boycott,” Waslin said.

Already, some states are moving forward with copycat legislation, and others may be holding off until the legal challenges to Arizona’s law play out in court.

Lawmakers in Missouri, Pennsylvania and South Carolina have introduced bills that borrow major elements from Arizona’s law, and in some cases are virtual mirror images of it.

In Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, Texas, Utah, lawmakers have said they will introduce S1070-like bills in 2011. Many states had already ended their legislative sessions, or were nearing completion, when S1070 passed, and some states did not have sessions in 2010.

Hethmon said he expects numerous states to have similar laws on their books by next year. He said he has been on the phone non-stop since the Arizona bill passed, counseling lawmakers in other states who want to draft similar measures.

Ann Morse, an immigration expert with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the lawsuits that have been, or will be, filed against S1070 may give other states time to watch and learn before following Arizona’s lead.

“It will be a wait-and-see kind of movement by states,” she said.

The architects of S1070 said they anticipated court challenges, and they crafted the bill to mirror federal law and withstand constitutional scrutiny. State and local illegal immigration laws have been struck down in the past on the grounds that they infringed on the federal government’s authority, and groups like the Immigration Reform Law Institute counseled Arizona lawmakers on how to write legislation that will pass muster in court.

Hethmon said many of the state-level immigration laws that have been overturned by the courts were written in haste and without regard for possible lawsuits. Arizona’s law, if it holds up against legal challenges, would set a new precedent and give states a template to write similar laws, which was the goal all along, he said.

The Immigration Reform Law Institute for years has provided legal counsel, courtroom defense and model legislation for states and cities that want to enact tough laws on illegal immigration.

Waslin said the institute was the driving force behind many of local and state immigration laws, which she said represent a misguided effort to show frustration with the federal government.

The Immigration Reform Law Institute “has certainly been shopping this type of legislation around to other states. And there are people who are going to be receptive,” Waslin said.

Arizona’s law, though, is more than a call to action for other states. Since S1070 passed, President Obama and congressional leaders have called for increased border security and federal immigration reform. On May 5, Obama asked Congress to begin work on a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Some hope federal action will head off Arizona-style laws in other states. Others see the immigration imbroglio as an opportunity to lock down the U.S.-Mexico border. But with their stock falling as the 2010 midterm election approaches, the Democratic majorities in Congress may be loath to tackle such a politically perilous issue.

Comprehensive immigration reform appears to lack the momentum it did the last time it was introduced in Congress, in 2007. Leaders of past immigration reform movements, such as U.S. Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham, have withdrawn their support and now say the border must be secured before anything else is considered.

James Carafano, a defense and homeland security expert with The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank, said there is virtually no chance that Congress will take up border security or immigration reform in 2010.

“People think that somehow something’s changed dramatically since 2007, and the answer is, it hasn’t. Americans are not of one mind on this issue,” Carafano said.

Of course, Arizona and other states have been passing illegal immigration laws for years, and it hasn’t spurred Congress to action. According to a study by the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 1,500 bills dealing with immigration were introduced in state legislatures in 2009, 222 of which passed. In 2008, 1,305 bills were introduced with 206 enacted.

But by taking the lead on the issue and showing that states can pass such an extensive law on illegal immigration, Arizona provided a spark that wasn’t there before, said Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe. Metcalfe on May 4 introduced the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, which not only shares similar language with S1070, but the exact same name as well.

“There’s a lot of Pennsylvanians who have been watching the national news and are very excited that Arizona has passed such a comprehensive piece of legislation directed at ending the illegal alien invasion,” Metcalfe said. “That is going to enable us to create more energy to move this legislation forward.”

South Carolina Rep. Eric Bedingfield, who introduced an Arizona-style illegal immigration law in his state’s Legislature, said S1070 motivated people in other states by showing “progress in an area where progress was needed.”

“It’s like anything else. All legislation to a certain extent is a kicking off point for a conversation about a certain issue,” he said. “No question that as the process was underway in Arizona, I’m sure members of legislatures around the nation, around the United States, were getting e-mails saying … ‘When are we going to look at this?’”