Emboldened by signals that the U.S. Supreme Court may uphold parts of Arizona’s immigration law, legislators and activists across the country say they are gearing up to push for similar get-tough measures in their states.
“We’re getting our national network ready to run with the ball, and saturate state legislatures with versions of the law,” said William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration. “We believe we can pass it in most states.”
That goal may be a stretch, but lawmakers in about a dozen states told the Associated Press they were interested in proposing Arizona-style laws if its key components are upheld by the Supreme Court. A ruling is expected in June on the Department of Justice’s appeal that the law conflicts with federal immigration policy.
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said he was encouraged that several justices suggested during Wednesday’s oral arguments that they are ready to let Arizona enforce the most controversial part of its law — a requirement that police officers check the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally. Another provision allows suspected illegal immigrants to be arrested without warrants.
“The justices sent a clear signal that there’s a huge zone for state action in this area,” Stein said. “There will be an enormous amount of energy spent in the next few months examining the full range of possibilities.”
A ruling in favor of Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 would probably enable Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah to move forward with comparable measures, which have been on hold pending the high court’s decision.
“If Arizona does very well, we’ll do very well,” said Alabama Sen. Scott Beason, sponsor of a law that in some respects is tougher than Arizona’s. In addition to requiring police to determine citizenship status during traffic stops, it directs government offices to verify legal residency for transactions like obtaining a car license, enrolling a child in school and getting a job.
Waiting for green light
Lawmakers in such diverse states as Mississippi and Pennsylvania said they would be eager to follow the Arizona/Alabama model if the Supreme Court gives a green light.
“You look at poll after poll after poll, whether they’re a business owner or employee or small business owner or executive, the majority of Americans support bills like 1070,” said Pennsylvania Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican.
Metcalfe has introduced a bill that incorporates Arizona’s law and is waiting for a favorable Supreme Court ruling to bring it up in his committee.
In Mississippi, a get-tough immigration bill passed the House earlier this year but died in a Senate committee.
Its backers plan to try again, and hope for a Supreme Court ruling that gives them guidance.
“This just ensures to the taxpayers of Mississippi that when we pass the law, we won’t end up in a long court battle,” said Republican Rep. Becky Currie.
As in Mississippi, South Dakota lawmakers also have rejected a measure based on the Arizona law, but its sponsor, Republican Rep. Manny Steele, says he’s ready to try again.
“I would be excited to get another bill going back in there, according to what the Supreme Court decision is,” Steele said.
In Rhode Island, Rep. Peter Palumbo said he was pleased by the Supreme Court’s apparent support for allowing states to enforce immigration law.
“It’s tremendous,” said Palumbo, a Democrat who would like to empower the state police to help federal authorities with immigration enforcement.
In several states where neither major party has a monopoly on power — Iowa, Colorado, Montana and Kentucky, among them — lawmakers said the fate of any hard-line immigration bill likely will depend on the outcome of state elections.
One of Kentucky’s leading critics of illegal immigration, Republican Rep. Stan Lee, said an Arizona-style bill has little chance with the Democratic majority in the House.
“Even if the Supreme Court upholds all or virtually all of that, I don’t expect to pursue any of that type of legislation unless there’s a significant change in the makeup of the House,” Lee said.