Photo: Groups united against harsh immigration laws
As more and more states are considering immigration laws that would mirror Arizona’s controversial legislation, immigrant advocate groups are “building momentum” and stopping them.
Last year, after Arizona passed a bill that would allow police officers to enforcement immigration laws previously reserved for federal officials, legislators in a number of states got to work to propose similar laws. However, business associations, Hispanic groups, farm bureaus, lawyers, and civil rights organizations came together and began work of their own.
Together, the groups began organizing state-by-state attacks against the proposals, and they were seeing results. Earlier this month, the Arizona Senate rejected five bills that would have prevented undocumented immigrants from buying or driving cars or obtaining marriage licenses.
Clarissa Martinez of the Hispanic civil rights group, the National Council of La Raza, said, “After what happened last year, many expected there was going to be an across-the-board wave of these bills and they would be slam-dunks, but legislators are realizing the it’s a risky proposition.”
Several states are still considering legislation like Arizona’s SB 1070, but are proceeding with caution after a federal judge halted the main parts of the law. An appeal is now pending. SB 1070 would require state law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of anyone they has “reasonable suspicion” to think was in the country illegally.
Currently, Utah and Oklahoma are consider Arizona-style laws, while Mississippi, Indiana, and Kentucky have already been somewhat successful in passing either different versions of Arizona’s law or similar proposals—some proposals having made it through either the House or Senate.
However, similar bills have already been rejected in Texas, Florida, Georgia, South Dakota. Kentucky and Mississippi groups were initially successful, as they were able to stop certain bills by comparing the struggles faced by Hispanic immigrants (legal or otherwise) to those of African-Americans in the 1960s.
Bill Chandler, the executive director of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, which is working with the NAACP’s local chapter to fight anti-immigration bills, said, “Mississippi is very difficult because there is a very entrenched, white-supremacist sentiment here. African Americans saw what was happening to Latinos as the same thing that happened to their families.”
There are legislators like Republican Rep. Randy Baumgardner (Colorado) who winces at being called a racist, and adamantly denies being called one.
“It was asked to me point-blank, ‘Why do you hate Mexicans?’ “ said Baumgardner. “I don’t hate Spanish people.”
He claims Arizona-style legislation is necessary, as undocumented immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans and legal immigrants who need work. He also states they are draining the already diminished state budget through services received in hospitals and schools.
Despite his claims however, last month, Baumgardner pulled his bill when he realized how much it would cost to implement and defend it once the likely-to-be-filed lawsuits against it began.
Lawsuits are “expensive for us, too, and divert us from doing other things,” said the ACLU attorney Cecilia Wang with the organization’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “But we’re ready and prepared to respond in any state that passes one of these laws.”