PHOENIX | It spawned myriad court challenges, calls to boycott this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game and more than a dozen copycat proposals in other states — but the one thing Arizona’s tough immigration law has not done is put anyone behind bars.
The law, known best by its legislative designation, SB 1070, turns 1 year old on Saturday, but it has spent the entire time in legal limbo. With most of its provisions halted by court order and a potential Supreme Court fight in the offing, the legislation’s major legacy has been to inflame an already heated debate and underscore the tension between states, who want action, and Washington, where stalemate still persists on all aspects of immigration policy.
“The law first really ignited people in regards to the border issue,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer told The Washington Times this week. “It united America, and the more that it was talked about the more people understood just exactly what was happening here in Arizona, and now they realize it’s not just Arizona it’s happening to, but Arizona is the gateway to so many states in our country that are being affected by illegal immigration.”
At its root, the law was designed to give local police more powers to detect and report illegal immigrants to federal authorities. Lawmakers said it would help push illegal immigrants to leave the state, while local law enforcement said they needed a tool to help combat the effects of illegal immigration.
Opponents, including President Obama, predicted the new powers would lead to racial profiling, and many state businesses argued that they needed illegal-immigrant labor to compete and keep their prices low for consumers.
Civil rights groups sued, citing potential abuses, but the Obama administration confined its lawsuit to constitutional issues of federal versus state powers — and so far, it has been winning its battle with the state.
First a district court and then a federal appeals court have blocked crucial parts of the law. In a 2-1 ruling earlier this month, the appeals court agreed with the administration that the law interferes with the federal government’s rights to set immigration policy and to conduct foreign relations.
Arizona’s Mrs. Brewer, a Republican who easily won a second term in November, said the fight is far from over.
She told The Washington Times that she will pursue an appeal, but she has not decided whether to go straight to the Supreme Court or to ask the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case. But she said there are no thoughts about stepping back and trying to rewrite the law to conform with the judges’ rulings.
“I think the consensus, if my read is correct, is that the legislature is not really interested in doing that. They feel like we’re on pretty solid ground, and we just need to move forward directly,” she said.
A study released this year by the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center calculated that if SB 1070 were to become law and force illegal immigrants out of the state, Arizona would lose 317,000 workers - or nearly 10 percent of its workforce.
The report also said the additional spending and other economic activities of those illegal immigrants generated another 264,000 jobs.
Those sorts of figures have been sobering to Arizona’s business community.
“The Chamber, like many other business organizations, was neutral on SB 1070 last year, believing that the bill mostly dealt with law enforcement issues and did not directly affect the workplace,” Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in a statement to lawmakers last month. “But as we watched the unintended consequences unfold, we saw that Arizona businesses were taking a direct hit to their bottom line in the midst of a deep recession.”