On Immigration, Momentum Shifts Away From Arizona

Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2011

A year ago, a revolution on immigration enforcement seemed underway, with legislators in at least 20 states vowing to follow the lead of Arizona’s tough new law targeting illegal immigrants.

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In at least six states, the proposals have been voted down or have simply died. Many of the other proposals have not even made it past one legislative chamber.

The most-discussed provision in the Arizona law requires police to investigate the status of people they legally stop whom they also suspect are illegal immigrants.

But even in Arizona, several tough immigration proposals have been stalled in the Senate, with business leaders and some Republicans arguing that the state does not need more controversy.

The one state whose Legislature has passed an Arizona-style law, Utah, only approved a diluted bill accompanied by another measure that goes in a dramatically different direction.

The Utah Legislature on Friday voted to create ID cards for “guest workers” and their families, provided they pay a fine and don’t commit serious crimes. {snip}

Utah’s measure is essentially a state version of the comprehensive immigration reform that many backers of the Arizona approach deride as amnesty.

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The main factor behind the retreat is skittishness about costs, said Ann Morse, who tracks immigration legislation for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Arizona was sued by the Obama administration, which secured an injunction against most of the law. That ruling is under appeal and expected to reach the Supreme Court, costing millions in legal fees. Arizona was also hit by boycotts and canceled conventions.

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But the situation in Georgia symbolizes why it has been difficult to pass Arizona-style laws. Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, campaigned on bringing such legislation to Georgia, but allies accuse him of equivocating because he hasn’t vowed to sign the proposal that passed the state House of Representatives on Thursday.

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In Arizona itself, SB 1070 helped propel Republicans to record margins in both chambers of the Legislature and to a clean sweep of statewide elected offices during the November election. Polls show the measure is very popular in the state and nationwide.

But its author, Senate President Russell Pearce, has been unable to replicate the measure’s smooth passage with the latest batch of immigration laws. {snip}

Proposals to require that hospitals check patients’ immigration status, that teachers and social workers refer suspected illegal immigrants to the federal government and that U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants be denied citizenship have all squeaked through state Senate committees. They have yet to face a vote in the full Senate. It’s possible the measures will ultimately pass, but many political observers in the state are surprised there has been Republican opposition to them.

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Critics call Utah’s guest-worker effort an unconstitutional attempt to create a state-level immigration policy just to send a message to a deadlocked Washington. That was also a central criticism of Arizona’s law.

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