Navigation

Why the Decision on SB 1070 Has Already Been Made

By Arizona State Sen. Steve Gallardo and Suman Raghunathan, Director of Policy and Strategic Partnerships at Progressive States Network, The Hill, April 24 2012
 

As the Supreme Court sits down this week to hear oral arguments in Arizona v. United States, legal analysts will dissect the constitutionality of Arizona’s SB 1070 from every possible angle. They will wrestle with questions of preemption and which party bears the burden of proof.

They will attempt to reconcile SB 1070’s controversial language and harsh penalties with long-standing jurisprudence regarding reasonable suspicion, probable cause, and due process. But the court and the legal pundits are missing something if their focus rests solely on who should be burdened with enforcing our outdated immigration laws. The real story on SB 1070 is the growing national consensus that the law, and the “self-deportation” approach upon which it relies, is a failed and disastrous approach to immigration — one that has rapidly fallen out of favor in states across the country.

At heart, SB 1070 and laws like it aim for what’s known in anti-immigrant circles as “attrition through enforcement.” The theory is that if you can make the daily life of an undocumented immigrant unbearable enough, he or she will pack up the family (often including their US citizen children) and hit the road. Thus, the laws deputize local police officers as immigration enforcement agents and turn even routine traffic stops into immigration checkpoints.

Much has been written about how this mean-spirited approach creates an unwieldy and intrusive police state rife with the potential for racial discrimination — but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. States that have followed Arizona and Alabama’s lead have seen their economies decimated, confronting intense worker and crop shortages, billions in lost tax revenue, and widespread calls for boycotts.

These are not short-term adjustments to a new enforcement model; they are the inevitable result of an approach not rooted in reality and doomed to fail. If, for example, SB 1070 successfully drove every undocumented immigrant out of Arizona, it would also succeed in reducing total employment by 17.2 percent, shrinking the state economy by $48.8 billion, and reducing state tax revenues by 10.1 percent. These are consequences that unquestionably affect all Arizonans, regardless of immigration status. 

The simple truth, is that immigrant entrepreneurs start businesses, create jobs, pay taxes, and bring their purchasing power to bear on American goods and services, raising the standard of living for all of us. In the technology sector alone, immigrants are responsible for more than half a million jobs and $50 billion in revenue nationwide.

State legislators have clearly gotten the message. Several states that passed SB 1070-inspired laws, including Arizona, have now introduced bills to repeal those very same laws, and bills modeled on SB 1070’s attrition through enforcement approach have gone up in flames in 23 states. In this year’s legislative sessions alone, Missouri and Mississippi declined to follow Arizona and Alabama down the rabbit hole of misguided immigration enforcement (with the voices of law enforcement and agricultural associations providing some of the loudest public opposition in Mississippi).

Rather than opting for unproductive scapegoating, a growing number of responsible state legislators across the country are pioneering practical, inclusive, and economically-viable approaches to immigration.

In Colorado, a bill aimed at making access to higher education more affordable for talented immigrant students just passed the state Senate this month. The proposal would bring Colorado closer to the fourteen other states that allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates — creating a sensible way for young people to further their education and contribute to their states’ economies in the future. Meanwhile, in California, the TRUST Act aims to address the fear and silence-induced rift between immigrant communities and law enforcement officials by limiting costly deportation proceedings to those convicted of serious and violent crimes.

As is often the case, smart public policy also makes for good politics. Legislators are not only championing these proposals due to their progressive values. They are also responding to the changing demographics of our country. As a new generation of Latino and immigrant voters comes of age, they are choosing their representatives with careful attention and a critical eye. Forward-thinking legislators are beginning to see that being pro-immigrant makes real political sense.

SB 1070 is undoubtedly unconstitutional. The federal government’s admittedly frustrating inaction on comprehensive immigration reform is not a license for states to trample on civil liberties and take on enforcement responsibilities for which they are neither prepared nor empowered. To focus solely on the case before the Supreme Court, however, is to miss the louder drumbeat emanating from statehouses across the country. Whatever the eight justices decide, the verdict is already in: SB 1070 is on the way out.