WASHINGTON — The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last week to invalidate part of Arizona's immigration law while leaving its most controversial element standing — at least for now — has led to conflicting opinions about whether more states will try to pass so-called “copycat” laws.
In states such as Alabama, Utah and South Carolina, which have already passed laws with provisions similar to Arizona's, legal challenges are expected to continue on some aspects, though enforcement of the provision sometimes referred to as “show me your papers” could move forward after hearings in lower federal courts.
The Oklahoma Legislature has not considered a sweeping package of immigration changes since 2007, when House Bill 1804 was approved.
That law prohibited illegal immigrants from getting government-issued identification, such as a driver's license; made illegal immigrants ineligible for most public assistance; and required employers to check the legal status of their workers.
In 2011, in lieu of considering a package similar to Arizona's law, Oklahoma legislative leaders formed a task force to determine what other laws were needed; that task force concluded late last year that no major changes were needed to Oklahoma's laws.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, said in a statement that the high court's ruling “is in part good news for South Carolina law enforcement. Now, they can do their job and verify that those suspected of being here illegally are actually here legally.”
Haley's comment referred to a provision in the Arizona law and in similar laws that allows law enforcement officers, while enforcing other laws, to verify the citizenship of people if they have reasonable suspicion that the people are in the country illegally.
Inaction sparks laws
Many states whose leaders have been frustrated with inaction by the federal government to stem illegal immigration have considered passing laws with provisions regarding employment, education, housing, drivers' licenses and welfare benefits.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, five states have passed “omnibus” laws similar to the Arizona law, which was approved in 2010.
The Supreme Court considered only a few provisions of Arizona's law and struck down three of them, ruling that states can't pursue immigration policies that undermine federal laws. The court essentially took a wait-and-see approach to the provision that allows police to check immigration status.
Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, a civil rights organization for Latinos, said the court's ruling “does not give states a green light to advance copycat measures,” sometimes referred to as “show-me-your-papers” laws.
But William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration, which supports laws similar to Arizona's, said: “We believe that we now have the momentum to pass versions of Arizona's SB 1070 law in many other states since the court upheld the most important provision in the bill.”
Congress needs to act
Many of those involved in the issue, including governors in states with tough anti-immigration laws, said after the ruling that it was even more important for Congress to address the problem.
President Barack Obama agreed, saying “What this decision makes unmistakably clear is that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform. A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system — it's part of the problem.”
Here are summaries, provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures, of some of the state laws passed in the wake of the Arizona law:
Alabama: Prohibits the entry, presence, and involvement in economic activity of unauthorized immigrants, employment, voting and registration activities, and access to public benefits. Public contractors and subcontractors are required to use E-Verify. The law bans illegal immigrants from attending college or receiving any state scholarships, grants, or financial aid. It is unlawful for a person to transport an immigrant; conceal, harbor or shield an immigrant; or harbor an immigrant unlawfully present by entering into a rental agreement if the person knows or recklessly disregards the fact the immigrant is unlawfully present.
Georgia: Prohibits and provides penalties for the entry, presence, and involvement in economic activity of unauthorized immigrants; employment; voting and registration activities; and access to public benefits. It requires E-Verify for public and certain private employers, verification of lawful presence for rental agreements.
Indiana: A law enforcement officer can arrest immigrants with removal orders or if the officer has probable cause to believe the person has been indicted or convicted of one or more aggravated felonies. Law enforcement officers can impound motor vehicles for violations of crimes related to moving, transporting, concealing, harboring, or shielding illegal immigrants. The law establishes state crimes for false ID, identity fraud, transport, and harboring. State agencies, localities and public contractors are required to use E-Verify.
South Carolina: Police can verify legal status during a lawful stop. The law creates an Illegal Immigration Enforcement Unit within the Department of Public Safety to enforce immigration laws. All public contractors and subcontractors are required to use E-Verify. Transporting or harboring an illegal immigrant in any place, including a building or a means of transportation, is a felony. Verification is required for public benefits.
Utah: The law requires that an officer verify the immigration status of a person arrested for a felony or a class A misdemeanor and a person booked for class B or C misdemeanors. It requires verification of immigration status regarding application for public services or benefits provided by a state or local governmental agency or subcontractor, except as exempted by federal law.