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Fighting Back Against Copycat Immigration Laws Like Arizona’s

Helpful Materials for Opposing Similar Legislation

SOURCE: AP/Ed Zurga

Kris Kobach is an attorney for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, or IRLI, the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, who drafted the Arizona law and most of the copycat bills.

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Download this memo (pdf)

Since the passage of Arizona’s SB1070 law similar laws have been proposed in other states around the country. These laws have generally been found to be unconstitutional because they are preempted by federal law, as the federal court noted in Arizona last month. They are also problematic because they encourage racial profiling by requiring law enforcement officials to seek identification papers from anyone who looks like an immigrant. And they can cost states lots of money in legal fees and economic losses.

The following materials can be helpful in pushing back against such proposed laws.

Who’s behind these laws?

The Immigration Reform Law Institute, or IRLI, the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, drafted the Arizona law and most of the copycat bills. The Southern Poverty Law Center designated FAIR a hate group because of its founder’s writings, its repeated participation with white nationalist groups, and its receipt of major funding from a racist organization.

Copycat laws frequently rely on the work of attorney Kris Kobach, who works for IRLI. Kobach’s lawyering has cost localities who have hired him millions of dollars while the laws have been found unconstitutional. The Arizona law was brought forth by State Senator Russell Pearce, who the Arizona press has described as having a history of associating with neo-Nazis and sending anti-Semitic emails.

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These laws are generally unconstitutional

The federal government has largely exclusive control over the nation’s immigration laws. This is why federal courts, as in Arizona, have repeatedly struck down local laws or the portions of local laws that try to impose new standards on immigrants in such areas as policing, housing, and permitting.

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SB1070 and copycat laws use fake data to make their case

Individuals often point to faulty studies and research claiming that immigrants create economic, tax, or crime burdens on taxpayers and citizens to justify SB1070 and similar laws. For instance, one talking point was that crime was up and that’s why SB1070 was needed. But definitive FBI crime statistics show a consistent decline in Arizona crime over the last decade as the immigrant population increased.

These studies are often filled with erroneous information or data purporting to show one thing when it actually shows something quite different. Most of this research comes from two organizations: FAIR and the Center for Immigration Studies, its ally organization. To rebut this purported research, trustworthy analysis can be found at www.immigrationpolicy.org and http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/domestic/immigration/, with state-by-state information available at http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/economic-and-political-power-immigrants-latinos-and-asians-all-50-states.

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Implementing these laws costs local jurisdictions lots of money

These laws repeatedly lose in federal courts and the legal battles over them are expensive, so the costs to states and municipalities are very high. Arizona has had to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations only to lose in federal court. Most places have been even less lucky as they have paid bills out of taxpayer dollars. Just a few examples of taxpayer expenses defending these laws include Hazelton, PA, at $2.4 million; Farmer’s Branch, TX, at $4 million; and Valley Park, MO, at $270,000.

If these laws were ever implemented at scale it’s estimated that they would cost communities huge sums without any way of recouping these dollars. One Arizona border county with a small population evaluated a proposed bill requiring the arrest of undocumented immigrants for trespassing as a result of their very presence in the United States. They estimated that it would cost taxpayers just for that county approximately $25 million to enforce the law while resulting in 12 percent fewer officers to handle other community policing needs, as well as the obligation to build an additional 683 jail beds.

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Implementing these laws hurts communities economically and creates unnecessary tensions

Since SB1070’s passage Arizona has lost tens of millions of dollars from boycotts. This includes losses in the tourism industry and from municipalities that passed divestment resolutions, meaning they stopped doing business with companies based in Arizona. In towns like Riverside, New Jersey, once vibrant commercial strips emptied out and residential properties saw increased vacancy as immigrants and their supporters moved out to avoid racial profiling due to anti-immigrant laws passed there.

Community tensions, once either nonexistent or small in scale, often become exacerbated as the laws are fought over. Heightening such tensions serves no legitimate purpose given that the laws are generally found to be unconstitutional in the end.

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States and legislators can take useful, positive action on immigration

States and legislators can provide alternatives to anti-immigrant legislation. High-quality positive alternatives include addressing wage enforcement and workers’ rights, integrating immigrants into communities, supporting English language instruction, community policing, and supporting women and minority entrepreneurs to help build local economies and grow jobs.

Good examples of these actions, including model legislation, can be found here:

Suman Raghunathan, “Immigration-Related Bills to Move in 2011 State Legislative Sessions,” Progressive States Network, July 23, 2010.

Legislators can also use their unique voices to engage the debate via blogging, writing op-eds, joining panel discussions, providing press statements and/or conference calls on current events, working with their colleagues in groups like the National League of Cities and US Conference of Mayors—which have both made powerful statements opposing the Arizona law—and also via lobbying Congress and the White House.

Examples of all of these can be found here:

Dawn Mabery, “What Legislators Can Do,” (Washington: National Immigration Forum).

It’s also possible to join with other local elected officials concerned about immigration reform to get regular updates and strategies. Two groups that support local elected officials with information, expertise, and online updates are Reform Immigration for America and Progressive States Network. More information is available below.

Reform Immigration for America, “State and Local Elected Leaders for Immigration Reform” (2010).

State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy, “Immigration Reform Letter” (2010).

Henry Fernandez is a Senior Fellow at American Progress focusing on state and municipal policy.

Download this memo (pdf)

This briefing was developed in consultation with the following organizations:

For more information, see:

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Katie Peters (economy, education, poverty, Half in Ten Education Fund)
202.741.6285 or kpeters@americanprogress.org

Print: Anne Shoup (foreign policy and national security, energy, LGBT issues, health care, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7146 or ashoup@americanprogress.org

Print: Crystal Patterson (immigration)
202.478.6350 or cpatterson@americanprogress.org

Print: Madeline Meth (women's issues, Legal Progress, higher education)
202.741.6277 or mmeth@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Lindsay Hamilton
202.483.2675 or lhamilton@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org