A month into the new year and state legislatures have already introduced a record number of immigration bills in 2011. Fox New Latino reports that in January 2011 alone, state lawmakers have filed more than 600 immigration bills, the vast majority of which seek to limit the rights of immigrants.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the numbers have been steadily increasing. In 2005, the NCSL reports that 300 immigration bills were introduced, though just 39 were enacted. Six of those were vetoed. But last year, a whopping 1,400 bills were introduced. Of those, 202 became law, 20 were vetoed and 131 resolutions were adopted. The numbers from 2010 were slightly down from 2009, when states introduced more than 1,500 bills. NCSL said most of these bills expanded law enforcement officers' rights to enforce immigration laws, as in Arizona, or dealt with ID and driver's license and employment issues.
A few takeaways, then: for every SB 1070, there are many, many more bills that get introduced but don't have the political momentum to wind their way through committee and hearing and onto the floor. It's a testament to the quiet on-the-ground organizing and lobbying from immigrant and civil rights groups that as awful as 2010 was for states' immigration policy, there wasn't more of it. It speaks to the quiet work of common-sense legislators who fight back against anti-immigrant hysteria and fear-mongering, even at the local level. (I'm reminded of the city council in Tomball, Texas.
States are seeing that targeting immigrants is a waste of state money and time, especially when many cash-strapped states are facing legitimately pressing matters: budget deficits, joblessness, failing education systems and skyrocketing health care costs. Who wants to attract expensive litigation for laws that will almost certainly end up being challenged in court? This weekend the Washington Post ran a story tracing this very arc.
"Obviously most places were not going to pass Arizona bills," Mark Krikorian, executive director of the immigration restrictionist group Center for Immigration Studies told the Washington Post. "There's always an initial flush of enthusiasm and then the reality of politics sets in...These states are bankrupt--they need to decide what battles they want to fight."
And here are the examples the Washington Post offers:
In Florida, an Arizona-style bill that appeared headed for passage a few months ago appears to be on life support. Even its primary Senate sponsor has expressed concern that the provision allowing police to check a person's immigration status during a traffic stop could amount to racial profiling.
In Utah, a state dominated by conservative Republicans, a couple of bills similar to Arizona's statute are in the legislative pipeline. But in November, state leaders from business, law enforcement, education and the Mormon Church urged moderation - and with some success. They drew up the "Utah Compact," which declares immigration a federal issue and urges legislators to focus resources on local crime.
But every anti-immigration bill that's filed, whether it passes the legislature or not, takes a swipe at immigrant communities. The bills that do not become law are not harmless--they infect the political climate, and encourage anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment that can often have dangerous consequences.