In legislative houses across the country, newly-elected lawmakers are getting down to the business of fulfilling their campaign promises. Those elected vowing to crackdown on immigration have proposed various restrictionist and enforcement-oriented policies, which seem poised to satisfy voters rather than solve actual problems.
In Texas, Governor Rick Perry proclaimed that eliminating so-called “sanctuary cities” was an emergency item for the State Legislature. Generally, the term refers to city policies which affirm the separation between local law enforcement and immigration issues; cities with these laws on the books don’t waste local resources targeting immigrants for status checks. Perry campaigned on ending the practice in Texas, but it’s not clear that it existed in the first place. When asked by reporters to name a few “sanctuary” cities the legislature should target, Perry couldn’t name one. As Texas faces a budget shortfall as high as $27 billion, it’s scary that the governor has identified this imagined problem as a top legislative priority.
Not to be outdone, noted anti-immigration activist and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was elected this year after pledging to end voter fraud committed by undocumented immigrants and felons. Kobach cites a whopping 80 recorded cases of fraud in a decade, but he claims, of course, that there are many more unreported cases. Yet the Kansas City Star points out: “The facts of the 80 cases often show they are hardly nefarious and very, very rarely involve illegal aliens. Most importantly, they are pursued under existing law.” To solve this pressing non-issue, the Secretary wants to force voters to bring photo ID to the polls, and generously proposes to provide free IDs or birth certificates to poor Kansans, an improbable suggestion given the state’s $500 million budget gap.
In Perry and Kobach’s immigration measures, we see elected officials pledging to tackle issues that hardly seem like top priorities for states struggling with economic recovery. Moreover, research shows that restrictive immigration laws come with high price tags for cities and states. According to a Center for American Progress report released this week, local anti-immigrant ordinances cost cities and towns millions in legal fees and lost revenues. In Arizona, CAP found that the economic boycott of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 will add up to $253 million over the next few years. In legal fees alone, Arizona spent more than $1 million. It’s baffling, then, that in recent months state legislators in Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and elsewhere have passed or considered policies inspired by Arizona’s infamous law. Jumping on the anti-immigrant bandwagon may appeal to some voters, but it certainly doesn’t come cheap.
As elected and re-elected officials confront widespread fiscal challenges, they should realize that their immigrant constituents, including undocumented immigrants, are economic assets. They pay taxes, support local retail and grocery stores, open small business and otherwise generate significant economic activity. Perhaps now that campaign season is over, politicians can stop looking tough for base voters and see the shared interest in maximizing immigrants’ contributions to local economies. Ending the crusade to target immigrants through expensive and irrational state policies would be a good start.