By Yana Kunichoff
Despite the broad, national backlash sparked by Arizona's harsh immigration bill - including protests and calls to boycott the state - lawmakers in more than 15 states across the country have recently called for similar legislation.
Since the introduction of Arizona's bill, which would allow police officers to enforce federal immigration law by stopping anyone they have a "reasonable suspicion" of being an undocumented immigrant, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Idaho, Utah, Missouri, Texas, North Carolina, Maryland, Minnesota, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Mississippi, North Carolina, Arkansas, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have announced their intention to follow suit.
Critics are calling the surge in restrictive immigration legislation an instance of copycat bills. Kamala D. Harris, San Francisco district attorney, said the "urge to score political points on the fringe" holds true to the unfortunate political maxim: "never let bad policy get in the way of good politics."
"Speaking as a prosecutor in a state which is both attempting to pass Arizona-style legislation and home to the nation's largest population of immigrants," Harris wrote in an op-ed in The Huffington Post, "I can tell you that transforming our local police officers into immigration agents will seriously harm our crime-fighting efforts."
Harris is one of many legislative or governmental workers in states considering restrictive legislation who are speaking out against the trend she calls "politics now, think later."
In Salt Lake City, Utah, Police Chief Chris Burbank has voiced his opposition to a similar bill, saying it "sets law enforcement back 30 or 40 years because it hearkens back to the days of 'Driving While Black.'" Burbank's department opted not to enforce Utah's already existing immigration law SB81 in 2009, saying it lead to de facto racial profiling.
In Minneapolis, as Ed Kohler pointed out on MinnPost.com, a nonprofit, online news site, the state-wide conversation includes rural, Republican legislators pushing for an immigration bill comparable to Arizona's as well as the mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who have banned or limited government travel to Arizona in opposition to their legislation. Police chiefs of both cities have also opposed it.
A study released Monday by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, part of the Smithsonian Institute, highlights the growing number of immigrant-related legislation introduced in the past couple of years, which soared from 300 bills nationwide in 2005 to 1,500 in 2009. The study also found that, contrary to most assumptions, more laws expanding immigrants' rights are enacted than those that contract them.
In particular, the study, "Context Matters: Latino Immigrant Civic Engagement in Nine U.S. Cities," shows that areas with a longer history of immigration, such as urban centers, focus more on accommodating immigrants than on restricting them.
Andrew Selee, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute and a co-author of the report, said, "the reality is that they're here already, so most cities and counties are trying to figure out how they can best incorporate these immigrants." In states including Texas, California and Illinois, Selee went on to say, "There is a sense that immigrants are a productive part of society."
The study also noted that immigrants tend to increase their civic engagement in the face of a threat, such as a restrictive immigration bill, and that there was a 24.7 percent surge in Latino voter registration between 2004 and 2008.
Tania Del Angel is the communications specialist at CASA de Maryland, a community organization working for full access to resources and opportunities for low-income Latinos through grassroots organizing. She said, "the president should take action to fix our broken immigration system. A solution is a Comprehensive Immigration Reform law that would provide a path to legalization for those hard workers and their families that live here without a criminal record."
In light of the actions being considered by states, including Maryland, in the absence of a comprehensive reform Del Angel calls for "a federal law that will not permit states to pass their own discriminatory laws.”
Ana Morse, who monitors immigration legislation for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said that because most legislatures are already out of session or winding down, it is unlikely attempts to pass legislation modeled on the bill in Arizona will be successful.