How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Whatever comes of SB 1070, the law has left its mark on immigration politics

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Protesters rally across the street from the downtown Phoenix office of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio last July 29, the day that parts of SB 1070 went into effect.

The Arizona law that became one of last year's biggest immigration stories has been shot down in federal appeals court, at least for now. Yesterday, a judge in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court judge's decision from last summer to block several of the most controversial components of SB 1070, among them a provision empowering local police to check for immigration status given "reasonable suspicion" that someone may be in the country illegally.

It's still not clear how the state will appeal the latest decision, though it most likely will. In the past, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has vowed to take the state's case to the federal Supreme Court. But whatever becomes of SB 1070, parts of which have been in effect since July 29, the law has already had a lasting effect on the state of immigration politics in the U.S.

The law has polarized and galvanized activists on both sides, acting as inspiration to conservative lawmakers in states throughout the country, including in California, to draft their own immigration laws with which to challenge the federal government. Few of the state bills inspired by SB 1070 have had much success, and one recently signed into law in Utah was paired with a more lenient guest worker program. But measures similar to the Arizona law have won votes lately in three southern states, and legislators are following what happens with SB 1070. From a New York Times story on the appeals court ruling:

The decision will be closely watched in several states that are considering similar laws of their own. The Georgia Senate was set to debate the matter on Monday, and another bill appeared on the move in Alabama.

Other states, including Mississippi and Kansas, watered down or abandoned tough bills to avoid the litigation and protests that Arizona faced. After lawmakers in Utah concluded that the administration’s challenge to Arizona was likely to prevail, they took a different tack. They voted for a milder enforcement bill, but also voted to create a guest worker program for illegal immigrants.


Less directly, the state-to-court trajectory of SB 1070 also helped inspire a more recent batch of state bills aiming to deny birthright citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants, with model legislation drafted with aid from the same legal counsel that assisted with SB 1070. The state bills introduced so far, as well as related federal bills, have yet to gain traction. Anti-birthright citizenship legislation heard in Arizona recently failed to make it past the Senate. But the relative early success of SB 1070, approved by Arizona lawmakers last April and signed by Brewer soon afterward, nonetheless spurred a broader wave of anti-illegal immigration advocacy.

Earlier this year I spoke with Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of Pennsylvania, the leader of State Legislators for Legal Immigration, a nationwide coalition of conservative anti-illegal immigration legislators. In January, the group collectively unveiled model state legislation written to force a federal Supreme Court revision of the 14th Amendment, which as now interpreted allows for automatic citizenship at birth to those born on U.S. soil. Metcalfe talked about how SB 1070, in spite of the many legal challenges against it, had served as inspiration.

“The success that Arizona had at the state level and the light that has been shined on their efforts…that does create momentum, that does encourage state legislators who think ‘Hey, if Arizona can do it,’” Metcalfe said. “We’re seeing momentum build..."

The momentum may have begun to wane, as Arizona's more recent attempts to get tough on illegal immigration - among them the anti-birthright citizenship effort and a bill proposing that hospitals check immigration status - have to date fallen flat.

Either way, SB 1070 has had an undeniable legacy, and parts of the law that went into effect in July remains so, including provisions making it difficult to hire or work as a day laborer. Arizona Public Media has posted links to the law and the Ninth Circuit ruling.

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