Much ink has been spilled decrying Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB1070, it’s racist, its anti American, it is a civil rights nightmare and so on. All of these are valid points in and of themselves, with the Supreme Court set to give its verdict on whether or not the federal government has pre-emptive rights over enforcing our national immigration laws, lets add another adjective to describe state passed immigration laws: impractical.
Regardless of the Supreme Court’s verdict, the simple fact remains state passed immigration laws are expensive, un-enforceable and not a long term solution to the systematic problems facing our immigration system.
Expensive: At the first ever Southeast Summit on Immigration a coalition of Southern CEOs, farmers and law enforcement officials concluded that state passed immigration laws reap a devastating economic toll on local economies. Just ask Arizona. According to several studies SB 1070 has devastated the state’s economy. The statistics don’t lie: Arizona’s economy lost $141 million, including $45 million in hotel and lodging cancellations and $96 million in lost commercial revenue. Alfonso Serrano over at Time notes that the drop in tourism also resulted in an estimated 2,761 jobs lost, resulting in $253 million lost in economic output. Serrano goes on to point out that while SB1070 was never actually enacted if it were fully implemented, the law would eliminate an estimated 580,000 jobs for immigrant and native-born Arizonians, shrinking the state’s economy by $48.8 billion.
That’s just Arizona, looking at Alabama’s worst in the country immigration law there is even more economic destruction. could result in a $10.8 billion loss for the state’s GDP, mostly due to reduced demand for goods and services provided by Alabama businesses. Professor Samuel Addy, of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama estimates that the state could face the loss of “40,000 to 80,000 undocumented immigrants would result in 70,000 to 140,000 lost jobs in Alabama, which amount to $1.2 to $5.8 billion in lost earnings. An additional $57 to $264 million would be lost in state income and sales tax collections.
Unenforceable: Local law enforcement officials have overwhelmingly come out against these types of law as they put undue stress on enforcement personnel and the communities they are sworn to protect. Roberto Villaseñor, the chief of police in Tucson, worries that immigrants will not report crimes or turn in criminals out of fear, justified or not, they will end up deported. Chief Villaseñor went on to say that SB1070, will instill “a level of mistrust” particularly in immigrant communities and break down years of efforts to combat the perception that the police collaborate with immigration agents.
Law enforcement officers also say these laws actually make their areas less safe. If a local police officer is acting as a Border Patrol agent he has less time to do his everyday duties. In a state like Alabama which is already facing budget shortfalls, where will state and local governments find the funds to pay for trainings, let alone any lawsuits that may occur from accidentally arresting those in the country legally? This has already happened twice in Alabama, one a Mercedes Benz executive, merely a week later a Honda one.
Not a long term solution: Here is perhaps the most important reason why these laws are not a long term solution; most states will not pass them. Going back to Serrano’s analysis over at Time, five states Utah, Indiana, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama have passed immigration bills into law, however over two dozen states rejected similar measures. Put another way 36 of 51 states have attempted to pass anti-immigration laws similar to Arizona SB1070. Only around16% have actually passed. This suggests even if the Supreme Court sets a precedent by finding these laws constitutional, it is highly unlikely that anything close to a majority of the states would pass their own immigration laws. Under this scenario removing immigrants currently in this country without documentation would be all but impossible. If you are someone who believes that we must remove all immigrants who are in the country without documentation, state passed immigration laws do not accomplish this goal.
A patchwork of state-passed immigration laws will not remove immigrants from the country. The evidence suggests they merely cause them to move from one state to another. If states were given constitutional authority to pass their own immigration laws, our country would be more or less in the same predicament we are currently in. There would still be a large population of undocumented immigrants in this country with no way to legally contribute to our country.
Bottom line, for those who support these state passed laws, you have been misled. These laws do not fix our immigration system. They are misguided, they make an already bad situation worse. As much as this pains some people to hear, the real solution is a federal overhaul of our system. The day that happens all of our states will have to do something about those currently living in their communities. At that point we truly will be acting as the United States of America, not a nation divided by untruths.
Kristian Ramos is the Policy Director of the 21st Century Border Initiative at NDN and The New Policy Institute.