SB 1070 is perhaps the single most controversial piece of state legislation on the national stage this election cycle. This legislation, a fault line cracking between party lines along one of the most controversial issues surrounding the fastest-growing demographic of Americans, has already gone before the Supreme Court. All indications, from quotes from the justices, to the celebration dance Jan Brewer performed for the cameras saying the arguments went “very very very well,” point toward the conclusion that this will be yet another conservative 5-4 decision breaking neatly along predictable lines. If this comes down the way its looking, this doesn’t bode well for states which allow themselves to get pushed to the right on immigration. Several states have already tried these measures, and found them to be failing economic policies.
In Utah, Indiana, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, there have been laws similar to SB 1070 passed. These measures have been incredibly expensive, profiting only those corporate prisons who hold the undocumented immigrants in deplorable prison conditions, and the lobbyists they send to K street to get more “tough on immigration” laws to fill their low-quality, for-profit dungeons. These are typically conservative organizations, such as the “nonprofit” lobbyist organization, the American Legislative Exchange Counsel, or ALEC. You may remember them from Florida’s “Stand your Ground” law, a law they helped author which translated to “shoot first and ask questions a few days later” for Treyvon Martin.
In Arizona, when SB 1070 came down, churches reported their pews emptying out. Many undocumented immigrants fled the state, selling their homes for whatever they could get, sometimes abandoning them. This drove property values down. According to a joint study by the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center, Arizona’s economy lost $141 million in the months immediately following SB 1070’s passing. There was a drop in tourism that resulted in an estimated loss of 2,761 jobs, roughly a $253 million loss in economic output. This doesn’t include the millions Arizona has spent to fight off discrimination lawsuits resulting from SB 1070.
Like Arizona, Alabama has instituted its own immigration law, which is even tougher than Arizona’s. The Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama says that this law could lead to a loss of $10.8 billion as the state loses 40-80,000 undocumented immigrants. This will cost between 70-140,000 jobs. This will cost the state between $57 and $264 million in state income and sales tax, crushing an already fragile tax base. Undocumented immigrants abandoning homes will drive property values down, and counties will have to raise property taxes or cut vital services at a time when the normal state of affairs is for the pain to travel down debt-wise from the bloated federal bureaucracy down to the local county and town governments. Already the agriculture industry across states with tough on immigrants policies are beginning to panic as the fruit rots on the vine because local farmers unable to find anyone to pick for them.
Other states have clearly taken notice. Recently, Kentucky concluded that passing Arizona-like legislation would cost the state up to $89 million annually, mostly to train additional law enforcement officers and personnel to implement the measure, according to a state senate-funded study. The Florida Chamber Foundation last year argued that immigrant workers add $4.5 billion to the state’s coffers every year in the form of tax revenues. In Georgia, roughly half of farmers are saying that they’re having trouble finding farm workers as a result of their immigration crackdown. The Georgia Agribusiness Council says that migrant labor shortages could cost the state farmers between $300 million and $1 billion.
These trends have also been observed at a more local level: Prince William County, Virginia, had its own failed experiment when it instituted its own SB 1070 legislation, well examined in the documentary film 9500 Liberty. The police began aggressively checking ID for undocumented immigrants, and the town became deeply divided. Business owners, Latinos and concerned citizens pled for a repeal, while others took to the street against them. The undocumented population was chased out overnight, foreclosure rates skyrocketed and property taxes were raised by 25% as values plummeted. Undocumented members of the community felt completely cut off by the police, harming public safety.
Eventually, an all white, 75% Republican board of supervisors killed the SB 1070-esque law in Prince William County. This wasn’t born of empathy for the families that were broken up or the negative impact on public safety, it wasn’t even about the fact that it had turned the town to Hatfields and McCoys: like most things in the Republican party, it all came down to the Benjamins. In the face of higher taxes and lower property value, the formerly ideologically-pure Republicans folded like lawn furniture and repealed the law after 8 weeks when they realized they were screwing everyone, including themselves.
At a practical level, laws like SB 1070 don’t deliver the tax savings or human rights goals that they claim, but have torn communities apart, and destroyed local economies and jobs. Right now, there are a lot of very conservative, job-creating farmers in unexpected places, i.e. Alabama, who are praying alongside mixed-status families that state legislatures come to their senses, or that the Supreme Court finds SB 1070 unconstitutional. It has consistently been a failure from both a human rights and economic perspective, difficult to enforce and incredibly divisive in each community and state it’s been implemented in. Police either look the other way and risk aggressive citizens filing a lawsuit, or are vulnerable to a discrimination lawsuit for enforcing the law.
In places where police do enforce SB 1070 legislation, the entire Latino community feels alienated and isolated from the police, becoming less likely to report crime. This is compounded by Republicans blocking the Violence Against Women Act from protecting undocumented battered women who may otherwise feel too intimidated by the threat of deportation to report abuse. All in all, it’s not pretty.
The Supreme Court hasn’t issued its decision as of yet, but, if the quotes from Antonin Scalia or Jan Brewer are any indication, SB 1070 will be alive and well after they do later this week. This will hurt conservatives, as it’s the Republican’s team that brought the lawsuit, and Romney’s gotta try to paint a robot grin on that. Between this, all those highlight reels of him talking about immigration during the debates resurfacing, Obama beating Rubio to the punch of offering an alternative to the DREAM Act (one which wouldn’t compromise by having to put in military border security or whatever other concessions Rubio would make to Lamar Smith to not kill his bill in committee) and Mitt’s incredibly indirect, dodgey answers to straightforward questioning on whether or not he would repeal Obama’s new DHS immigration policy, Romney’s on the ropes with Latinos.