The Next Chapter in State-Passed Immigration Laws

The Next Chapter in State-Passed Immigration Laws


This week we have come to a turning point in the fierce national debate over the sovereignty of the federal government in enforcing immigration laws.

The Supreme Court recently announced that it will hear arguments over the constitutionality of Arizona’s immigration law S.B. 1070 while in Alabama the Governor may seek to “retool” his state’s own controversial law. These are significant developments: one promises more clarity on the question of the constitutionality of state passed immigration laws; the other answers the question of whether or not these laws are practical in practice.

The second issue is as important or perhaps more so than anything the Supreme Court may bring to light.

Ahead of the SCOTUS debate there will be fierce debate over the constitutionality of these state laws. Pundits will cite federal district court judge Susan Boyles’ preliminary injunction on the law and the 9th Circuit Court of appeals. Others will tout our country’s proud tradition of Federalism and the failure of the federal government to enforce immigration laws.

Despite the increasingly high pitched tenor of the legal debate it is worth asking: given the various problems for local governments that these laws create, even if states are constitutionally permitted to pass and enforce their own immigration laws, is it in their best interest to do so?  In places like Arizona, Georgia and Alabama, whatever the ancillary benefits there may have been as a result of these laws have been far outweighed by the disruptive problems they’ve created for their local legislatures.

In Arizona, the state has never actually been able to enforce the law as written. However the damage done to the economy has been significant. First there was the exodus of Hispanics – both legal and undocumented – from the state. Then there was the damage done to the economy itself in loss of revenue. A projection of the loss in tax revenue if Arizona carried out its mass deportation strategy is estimated to be $48.8 billion.

Things are worse in Georgia, where they were also not able to actively enforce the law, but that did not stop local undocumented and legal migrant farm workers from leaving the state in droves, leaving crops literally rotting on the vine. Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal ordered an investigation into the laws effect on the state’s agricultural system and found that the state was going to have a windfall of 11,000 farm jobs. Jobs that the Governor could not get criminals to fill.

If in Alabama things are worse, the state faces all of the same problems that Arizona and Georgia does, but in many ways is further hampered by the fact that the state has actually been able to enforce its law.  In enforcing their law they have seen a mass exodus of children from their schools, and have managed to arrest several legal immigrants. Auto workers from Mercedes Benz and Honda, both legally in the country were arrested. This prompted the Governor of the state to pronounce the state safe for foreign business. A sentiment which would have been moot had the Governor and his state legislature given any real consideration of how hard it is to enforce federal immigration laws.

While questions of constitutionality of state passed immigration law will be debated from here until next summer, the above examples offer compelling evidence that at the very least from a practical level, states are ill equipped to deal with enforcing federal immigration laws.  From a process level, immigration in the country is not lessened overall as immigrants, both legal and undocumented merely leave for other states where they don’t risk being profiled or falsely arrested. Before this issue can be tried in the highest court in the land, a more literal precedent is being set. All one has to do is observe the harsh effect of Arizona’s stagnant economy, the empty fields in Georgia and the potential loss of businesses in Alabama to find a compelling argument that these laws do not work the way they are intended too. A casual viewer, let alone a Supreme Court Justice, should be able to see that.