Immigration legislation: sound and fury signifying little

immigration seal
(image: New Mexico Independent)

Across the country this year, more than 1000 bills have been introduced in state legislatures to deal with immigration issues. As in Colorado, many of these have floundered.

When they have passed, their effect has often been muted. Even Arizona’s famed SB 1070 has led to zero arrests, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

What the laws have done, whether passed or not, is create open hostility toward immigrants of brown skin, regardless of their citizenship.

In Arizona, the laws have led to a mass exodus of immigrants, while lost business opportunities have led that state’s Republican legislature to back away from a handful of even tougher measures.

Perhaps the most important effect anti-immigrant legislation has had is that it has led to a more visible, more active political presence for Latino and pro-immigrant groups.

From Wednesday’s Christian Science Monitor:

From an enforcement standpoint, the impact of state anti-immigration laws like Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 “is almost negligible,” says Veronica Dahlberg, an immigrants’ rights activist.

The far greater impact has been social, Hispanic groups say. Laws targeting illegal immigrants have reflected and even intensified the rising anti-immigration movement, both in statehouses and on the streets. The result is a legislative record from Arizona to Florida that hasn’t made much of a mark on illegal immigration, but has fueled a populist backlash against it.

Moreover, by some measures, the farthest-reaching laws have had little impact. Arizona’s SB 1070 has reportedly yielded no arrests, and enforcement of the portion of the law requiring police officers to check a person’s immigration status is being delayed by a court challenge.

In Arizona, an estimated 100,000 Hispanics left the state in the months after SB 1070 was enacted, according to a BBVA Bancomer Research study.

But according to Alicia Sandoval, who left Arizona for Ohio, this mass exodus was not just because of SB 1070. Ms. Sandoval, who came to the US from Mexico 10 years ago, says the law only formalized what had been going on for years. “When we first came to Arizona, there was no fear,” Sandoval says through an interpreter. “The police wouldn’t treat you bad, even if you didn’t have any papers.”

But that has changed. She points to the aggressive policies of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who helped deport 26,000 people from 2007 to 2010 – all before SB 1070.

Sandoval worked at a bakery in the heavily Hispanic Phoenix neighborhood and often saw lines of cars pulled over by police officers when she got off work at 1 a.m. She says police would find reasons, such as expired tags, to pull over people.

“We need some sort of education on how we can be integrated into the community, and not be separated from it,” says Sandoval.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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