With GOP Victories, Harsh Immigration Copycat Laws Likely Across the Country

This man may be disappointed - SB 1070 copycat bills are likely - Photo: FibonacciBlue/Flickr

This man may be disappointed - SB 1070 style bills are likely to appear in 2011. (Photo: FibonacciBlue/Flickr)

The abundance of Republican victories in the 2010 elections draw a bleak landscape for undocumented immigrants. The ascent of hard-line GOP governors (not to mention members of state legislatures) — many of whom highlighted opposition to illegal immigration in their campaigns — means that pens will be at the ready to sign bills like Arizona’s SB 1070.

Here’s a primer on the states that are likely to pass harsh immigration laws in 2011:

Georgia’s Governor-elect Nathan Deal might be the first one to bring a copycat bill to the spotlight. As a U.S. Representative, Deal was an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration and proposed changing the federal policy on birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants.  Deal means business: he also proposed an amendment to the 2009 health care bill that would have required proof of citizenship for Medicaid benefits under the Health Care reform bill, and in his campaign vowed to introduce a law like SB 1070 if elected. A state that saw a rapid influx of immigrants in the 90s and early 2000s, Georgia has a history of taking a tough stance on immigration. The 2006 Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act made it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to work on state projects and to gain access to health care, higher education and public benefits.

Nevada’s Governor-elect Brian Sandoval, son of Mexican immigrants, gave his support to Arizona’s immigration law early on. But powerful business interests in the state oppose such a law, and in a detailed report, ImmigrationWorks USA, a coalition of business owners who support immigration reform, says that when Rep. Chad Christensen tried to get a provision calling for passage of a Arizona-like law on the Nevada ballot for 2011, the Nevada Resort Association and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority took him to court and “squashed the idea.”

Governor-elect Rick Scott is all but certain to push for harsh immigration measures in Florida. His rhetoric on immigration was so strong during his campaign that he pressured his Republican primary opponent Bill McCollum into introducing an Arizona-style bill lastsummer. But whether the Florida legislature would pass a bill like SB 1070 is less clear, considering the state’s huge immigrant population.

Incoming Indian-American South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has been clear she supports SB 1070. “I will tell you that if the Arizona-style immigration reform comes to my desk, I will absolutely sign it,” she said in an interview with a SC newspaper, Post and Courier. That’s likely to happen, since the State Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell said he would introduce one next year.

New Mexico’s governor-elect Susana Martinez said she wouldn’t sign a law like SB 1070 in New Mexico, but she has promised to repeal state laws allowing illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses and free in-state tuition through a scholarship lottery.

Nebraska reelected Republican Gov. Dave Heineman last week, who put immigration at the center of his campaign, vowing to make it easier for police to arrest illegal immigrants.

Oklahoma is also a state to watch.  Republican state representative Randy Terrill was reelected, the man who told reporters he was going to write an “Arizona-Plus” law. Terrill sponsored Oklahoma’s HB 1804 in 2007, which sanctioned employers harshly for hiring undocumented immigrants.

Lawmakers in Texas filed 15 immigration-related bills for the legislature to consider in its next term, one of which would make it a state crime to enter the country illegally. The Statesman reports that similar bills failed to pass in the legislature previously, but now Republicans have a 50-person majority in the Texas house, up from just a two-person majority—so it’s a whole new ballgame.

Mississippi is one of four states that mandate E-Verify, (a voluntary federal program that uses a database to verify a worker’s immigration status) for all employers, and being anti-illegal immigration is endemic to GOP politicians in the state. Pressure is growing on the state level, with Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant saying on the radio in August, “I think you are going to see an Arizona-type law here in Mississippi.”  Three Republican state senators have told reporters they are working on immigration bills, and Gov. Haley Barbour said he would sign an Arizona-style bill.

Its unclear what the repercussions will be of enacting these measures. We haven’t seen the end of the legal wrangling over SB 1070. Oral arguments are currently underway in California’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals over U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton’s decision to enjoin the law’s most controversial provisions. The U.S. Supreme Court will also hear arguments this December concerning another Arizona immigration law, one that sanctions businesses for hiring undocumented immigrants and requires them to use E-verify. That law is being challenged by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit business lobbying group, that argues federal law preempts Arizona’s statute. But in the vacuum created by the lack of federal immigration reform, it seems that there will be a continued stream of state and local laws aimed at immigrants.


AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.