Arizona: Did Supreme Court take the steam out of states' immigration activism?
A majority of Americans want to see their states adopt immigration laws similar to Arizona’s. But the Supreme Court’s decision Monday may give state legislators more wiggle room to avoid the subject.
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Across the US, about 56 percent of Americans want to see their states adopt an Arizona-style law, according to Quinnipiac. But among Hispanics in battleground states, the spectre of the Supreme Court upholding the “papers, please” provision showed that 60 percent of Latino voters thought it would create an anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic environment, with 28 percent of Latinos saying the law would have no effect on attitudes, according to a recent Latino Decisions poll.Skip to next paragraph
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In Tennessee, polls regularly show at least 70 percent of voters backing tougher immigration laws, and Joe Carr, a Republican lawmaker from Murfreesboro, has acquiesced, sponsoring several key anti-illegal immigrant bills that have passed the Tennessee Legislature with bipartisan majorities.
Dissatisfaction with Washington’s ability to control immigration remains a driving force in the state’s politics, he says, although he concedes lawmakers don’t have much more work to do on the immigration front.
“Now that the Supreme Court decision has come down, we will be taking a hard look at what other additional measures we can take that the court has allowed to move forward,” Mr. Carr says.
Some immigration experts say it’s likely that the steady growth in immigration-related state bills since 2005 is over, punctuated by Monday’s Supreme Court decision.
In the first quarter of 2012, legislators introduced 865 immigration-related bills and resolutions, compared with 1,538 in the same period in 2011. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Arizona lawmakers introduced 33 immigration-related bills this year, compared with 57 last year.
“I think at this point we’ve literally exhausted every state or municipality willing to pass these kinds of laws,” says Jamie Longazel, a sociologist who studies immigration-related issues at the University of Dayton.
One telling fact: The Supreme Court, in a case out of Arizona last year, confirmed the ability of states to demand that employers use the federal e-Verify immigration database to check the status of new employees. In the year since, no states – even states like Alabama and Georgia, which passed SB 1070-style laws in the interim – have actually walked through the door the Supreme Court opened to mandate such checks.
Meanwhile, backlash from not just Hispanic activists, but also from teachers, religious leaders, business people, and farmers, have made immigration-related legislation more difficult and politically risky to pass, policy experts say.
“It’s really possible that we’re seeing an important turning point,” says Tamara Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, which advocates immigration reform on behalf of small businesses. “I think a lot of people in the states have been waiting for a way to save them from having to [pass tougher immigration laws], and I think [the Supreme Court] decision helps them.”