Why Arizona’s Birthright Citizenship Bill is Bad for the Economy
Arizona lawmakers are expected to introduce an “anchor baby” bill today that would deny birthright citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. Modeled after birthright citizenship legislation unveiled by the nativist coalition State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI) earlier this month, the measure is, unabashedly, part of a larger effort on the part of SLLI to challenge existing citizenship law in the United States.
Lawmakers from Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina have likewise committed to introducing citizenship bills at the state level, while legislators from Nebraska, Indiana, Colorado, Texas and others are determined to implement similarly controversial Arizona-style enforcement measures in their states.
In recent years, communities that implemented harsh anti-immigrant laws have experienced a number of economic and social repercussions which lawmakers continue to overlook in their determination to tighten enforcement. But as nativist policies bleed public coffers and anti-immigrant political speech incites new strains of ethnic violence, the stark consequences of such extremism are becoming harder and harder to ignore.
Devastating local economies
The legal costs of defending constitutionally questionable laws like SB 1070 ought to be obvious. Arizona, which has the rare luxury of drawing from a $3.6 million donor-endowed legal defense fund, spent upwards of $500,000 defending 1070 from legal challenges last year, and could, in the long-term, spend as much $10 million, according to New America Media’s Valeria Fernández.
Yet the think-tank Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)—a major supporter of anti-immigrant laws like SB 1070 and birthright citizenship bills—obstinately underplays the financial fall-out of such measures. Ira Mehlman, a national spokesperson for FAIR, reportedly told New America Media that “the costs of litigations pale in comparison to the cost of communities providing healthcare, education and welfare for undocumented immigrants and their citizen children.”
Considerable evidence suggests otherwise. The Brookings Institution, the Udall Center for Public Policy and former President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors have all concluded that immigrants contribute much more to their local economies (through taxes and spending) than they take out through social services (about $800,000 more).
Now, a new report by Southern Poverty Law Center (which, incidentally, has listed FAIR as a hate group since 2007) argues that anti-immigrant laws—not immigrants—have a greater track record of depressing local economies. Gebe Martinez at Campus Progress sums up what happened to five communities “that threw anti-immigration statutes onto their books without fully considering their impact.” He writes:
- Hazleton, Pennsylvania, the leader of the court fights for local immigration enforcement, is in the tank for at least $2.8 million with some estimates totaling $5 million as it defends its ordinance all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Riverside, New Jersey suffered a local economic downturn before the city rescinded its anti-immigrant ordinance and welcomed the return of immigrants.
- Farmers Branch, Texas has spent nearly $4 million in legal fees and is expected to spend at least $5 million to defend its anti-immigration statute with no end in sight.
- Prince William County, Virginia dramatically scaled back a tough immigration statute after realizing the original version would cost millions to enforce and defend in court.
- Fremont, Nebraska, increased the city’s property tax to help pay the legal fees for its anti-immigration ordinance which it intends to defend.
A spate of state-level birthright citizenship bills stands to be similarly costly, as the admitted goal of their sponsors is to force numerous court cases that challenge the conventional applications of the 14th amendment—legislation through litigation. But there are other expenses as well. If such legislation were to pass, government agencies would bear the incredibly costly burden of making citizenship determinations for every child born in the United States—a logistical nightmare that neither federal nor state governments are prepared to undertake.
Fueling ethnic violence
As economically devastating as these divisive measures can be, their social impact on communities is often even greater. Politicians bent on enacting anti-immigrant legislation frequently rely on hateful speech and pejorative language to foment public discontent and, in so doing, build citizen support for their measures—with tragic consequences.
Colorlines.com has repeatedly reported on the correlation between bigoted political speech, anti-immigrant legislation, and ethnic violence. Now, Mónica Novoa reports that a new study from the University of Maryland corroborates the connection. Charting the use of anti-immigrant slurs in newspapers and wire services over the last three decades, the study revealed that “a spike in usage of the dehumanizing slurs usually coincided with contentious immigration policy proposals.”
The correlation persists despite the fact that more than 15 years ago, four professional journalism associations—National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, Native American Journalists Association and National Association of Black Journalists—advised their members to stop using the phrase “illegal alien” on the grounds that it is “pejorative,” “grammatically incorrect and crosses the line by criminalizing the person, not the action they are purported to have committed.”
While incendiary rhetoric may be an effective way of garnering political support for controversial measures, it all too often fuels violence. Going back to New America Media, Fernández notes that this destructive cycle frequently makes for tragic consequences, as in the case of a 9-year-old girl who was allegedly murdered by members the Minuteman Project, an armed, volunteer border patrol organization. The Latino advocacy organization Cuentame, in partnership with Brave New Films, similarly emphasizes the link between hate speech and increasing incidents of hate crimes against Latinos:
Anti-birthright citizenship bills would effectively create an underclass of mostly Hispanic non-citizens. It’s an almost certain catalyst for rampant and systemic anti-immigrant discrimination and ethnic violence. As the anti-immigrant lawmakers from Arizona and elsewhere make good on their promises to push a new, more fervent, onslaught of anti-immigrant legislation in 2011, expect the financial and social costs of such extremism to rise further still.