2012: Immigration legislation set to gain momentum

As comprehensive immigration reform remained stalled in Congress in 2011, the issue persisted as a top priority among state legislatures that pushed various bills targeting undocumented immigrants. This week, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) released The Wrong Approach: State Anti-Immigration Legislation in 2011, a report that offers a state-by-state breakdown of the status of anti-immigrant bills introduced over the past year.
“Although 2011 saw a wave of Arizona SB 1070-style bills introduced at the state level, the majority of these bills were rejected,” said Elena Lacayo, Immigration Field Coordinator for the Immigration Policy Project at NCLR. “And of the 25 states that rejected these bills, more than half of those were Republican controlled. Now, the few states that disappointingly passed these laws are facing the same legal, economic, and civil rights problems that Arizona has faced.”
In fact, in 2011 many more states considered and advanced laws focused on expanding opportunity for immigrants and residents as a whole in a variety of areas, including access to higher education and labor rights. As the 2012 legislative sessions kick off, scores of state legislators are working to advance commonsense approaches to immigration policy—those that bolster state economies and honor our nation’s values, according to Progressive States Network (PSN), a national organization that provides support to state legislators advancing positive, commonsense immigration measures.
“State lawmakers want what’s best for the states and state economies, and 2011 showed us that legislators are increasingly committed to crafting solutions-based approaches to immigration focused on expanding opportunity and economic prosperity at a time when state budgets need all the help that they can get,” said Suman Raghunathan, Director of Policy and Strategic Partnerships at Progressive States Network.
To date, only six states have passed broad anti-immigrant bills modeled off of Arizona’s SB 1070: Utah, Indiana, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. The NCLR report provides an overview of how this legislation gained momentum, beginning with the passage of SB 1070 in Arizona, and what consequences those states endured as a result of these laws, including immediate legal challenges, economic losses, civil rights violations, and growing mistrust between law enforcement and the immigrant community.
Lacayo and Raghunathan were joined by Isabel Rubio, Executive Director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!), and by Colorado State Senator Michael Johnston for a telephonic press conference where participants discussed why these laws took root in some states and failed in others and the prospects of both pro- and anti-immigrant state proposals in 2012.
Rubio shared her firsthand account of the damage that she’s seen in Alabama as a result of the state’s incredibly harsh anti-immigrant law.
“HB 56 brought Alabama back to the dark past it has worked so hard to overcome,” said Rubio. “Alabama is now gripped by a humanitarian crisis as a consequence of this law: families are fleeing the state, kids are afraid to go to school, and people are being denied basic services such as access to water.”
But, participants were quick to point out that the negative impact that these laws have had on states such as Alabama, Georgia, and Arizona may have deterred other states from taking similar action.
In fact, some lawmakers, like Sen. Johnston, are actually pushing back and introducing pro-immigrant bills. “Colorado’s future depends on forward-thinking approaches to immigration—ones that focus on nurturing talented youth and putting our tax dollars to better use than destroying immigrant families,” said Sen. Johnston. “As a former public school teacher, I have seen firsthand all that our state has to gain from the economic contributions and energy of immigrants. I remain committed to laws and policies that welcome and channel this energy into a better future for Colorado this year and beyond.”
Still, Lacayo warned that more anti-immigrant legislation could be on the horizon in 2012. “Until Congress acts on immigration, we will no doubt see legislators continue to push racial profiling bills at the state level,” said Lacayo. “While we’re grateful that states are rejecting these bills, we still need our lawmakers on Capitol Hill to stop using this issue for political sport and actually provide this country with legitimate solutions to fix our broken immigration system at the federal level.”
Raghunathan added that state legislators are critical to shifting the debate to generate solutions in 2012.
“State legislators understand the on-the-ground reality of immigration, which has largely expanded economic output and opportunity while revitalizing communities,” noted Raghunathan. “These lawmakers are at the forefront of commonsense approaches that recognize the contributions of immigrant workers and families and chart a way forward to expand opportunity for all.”

About the Author