Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

What killed Arizona's anti-illegal immigration bills?

Photo by midwinter/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Last week, Arizona's state senate voted down five major anti-illegal immigration bills, among them two bills seeking to deny automatic U.S. citizenship to babies born to undocumented immigrants, a bill requiring hospitals to check immigration status, and an "omnibus" bill that would bar undocumented immigrants from public services.

In a state whose name has become a synonym for getting tough on illegal immigration, it's a radical shift from a year ago, when Arizona legislators were considering the stringent SB 1070 sponsored by Sen. Russell Pearce, the Republican who is now state senate president.

What happened? Since the vote late last week, there has been a good amount of analysis that attempts to answer this. Arizona's business community, already suffering from a post-SB 1070 economic boycott of the state, played a substantial role.

An opinion piece in the New York Times on Monday, which cheered the decision, at the same time pointed out the practical reasons behind the defeat of the bills:

The reversal has to do with money, of course. The bills were dead once the state’s business lobby weighed in against them. Sixty chief executives signed a letter to the Legislature saying the harsh immigration measures were having “unintended consequences” — boycotts, lost jobs, canceled contracts, publicity so bad that businesses with Arizona in their names were suffering — even one based in Brooklyn. The chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Glenn Hamer, said the reaction to Arizona’s extremism had already cost the state $15 million to $150 million in lost tourism revenue.

The New American, a magazine owned by the conservative John Birch Society, offered this interesting dissection of the party lines within party lines in context of the Arizona vote:
The Senate's actions also illustrate limits on the potency of the Tea Party movement's ability to decide legislative action, indicated Pat Kenney, an Arizona State University political science professor. "This is driven ideology that isn't mainstream with other Republicans — the business leaders, the moderate Republicans," he said. "They have some things in common but they don't have everything. There's a split there."

The ideological divide between moderates and traditional conservatives in the Arizona GOP is a clearly identifiable cause of the failure of the five bills. “Country Club Republicans” (big government “conservatives”) are typically lax on enforcing immigration laws, and side with big business interest groups such as the Chamber of Commerce in opposing tough immigration laws. As an example of this phenomenon, one need look no further than U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), whose support for amnesty for illegal aliens earned him the unflattering moniker “Grahamnesty” among constitutionalist conservatives. Conversely, traditional conservatives such Pearce take a principled and tough stance on the issue.

The Senate bills appear to be dead for now, according to the Phoenix New Times. Two Arizona House anti-birthright citizenship bills, companions to the Senate bills that were introduced at the same time, have not been heard yet. From a piece yesterday:
There are House versions of the birthright citizenship bills, HB 2562 and HB 2561, both sponsored by state Representative John Kavanagh. But so far, neither one has been assigned to committees, and word is that House Speaker Kirk Adams is not friendly to the proposals.

Meanwhile, other anti-birthright citizenship bills, along with a host of SB 1070-style measures, are pending in several different states, including California. But they have yet to make much progress. Some, like Arizona's, have failed to win support, as several anti-illegal immigration bills did in Illinois. And in perhaps the biggest state-government development yet, a Utah enforcement bill that would have police check immigration status was softened considerably - and was approved along with a guest-worker bill.

As the Arizona boycott continues and SB 1070 remains partly hung up in court, do these developments indicate the dawn of a kinder, gentler attitude toward immigration enforcement in state governments? The takeaway from a recent analysis in the Christian Science Monitor is that it's more about pragmatism:

“I think the business community here has had a long overdue impact on this,” says Todd Landfried, spokesman for the Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform. “The people in the business community finally said, ‘Enough is enough,’ and told the Senate president that moving these bills forward now is damaging us.”

“At a time when businesses are moving out of the state and people are getting laid off, this is not good for the economy or the people of Arizona,” he adds. “We have to stop this.”

Some Hispanic activists say Utah is merely attempting to be more practical.

“Utah is taking a more pragmatic and economic approach to address the complex and controversial immigration debate,” says Randy Ertll, executive director of El Centro de Accion Social in Pasadena, Calif. “They learned from Arizona.”

Utah’s guest-worker program, for example, is a pipeline for cheap, temporary labor from Latin America.