The battle over immigration reform has entered its second year and the landscape now looks very different than even a few months ago. Arizona took the lead and offered the draconian (and unconstitutional) SB 1070 and at least 20 states lined up to propose similar measures.
But in at least six states those proposals have been voted down or simply withered on the vine. At least as many can’t make it out of committee.
Even in conservative Utah their efforts at immigration reform have produced a bill that many of the backers of the Arizona approach dismiss as amnesty. The Utah bill, passed on Friday, creates ID cards for “guest workers” and their families so long as they pay a fine and don’t commit serious crimes. Immigrants who entered the country illegally would be fined up to $2500 while those who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law would be fined $1000.
As the bill’s author state Rep. Bill Wright noted “[s]ending a few people home will not solve our problems.”
So why the sea change? Most immigration policy experts point to state budget woes as the primary motivator for moving away from the Arizona approach. The massive expansion of police power contemplated by the Arizona-style immigration measures means spending money on added enforcement, not to mention the costs associated with defending the measures in court. States are looking ways to reduce spending, not increase it.
Additionally, businesses have shown an uncomfortableness with the economic consequences associated with unpopular measures. Despite best efforts to spin the story otherwise, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is facing growing pressure to curb these kinds of efforts and if she doesn’t may even face a recall. And while SB 1070 still has support among Arizonans, other immigration measures pushed through this year are not as popular.
So what does this all mean? If there can be any consensus drawn a year later, it is the importance of a broad-based national solution to the challenges of immigration reform. Congress took a stab at it last year but was stymied by Republicans. Given the current makeup of the House of Representatives there’s no reason to think any reasonable reform will come anytime soon.
Which means states will continue along in a patchwork fashion and the issue will most likely be decided through court challenges. For those who support the Arizona approach to immigration reform, that is not good news.
photo courtesy of barnaby via Flickr