As meaningful immigration reforms continue to languish in Congress, it’s time to look towards the states.
During a similar period of time after federal reform legislation failed in 2007, the organized anti-immigrant movement did so and subsequently passed a wave of harsh anti-immigrant legislation including Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56. As the prospect of enacting national reforms continues to diminish, the anti-immigrant movement is likely to direct more of its resources towards reversing the recent trend of pro-immigrant legislation at the state level.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the flagship organization of the anti-immigrant movement, has indicated this potential shift in focus by promoting its former State and Local Director, Dale Wilcox, to be the executive director of the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI). IRLI is FAIR’s legal arm and source for much of the country’s anti-immigrant policies.
IRLI attorneys, namely Michael Hethmon and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, have shaped some of the country’s harshest anti-immigrant legislation including Arizona’a SB 1070. In 2012, The Washington Post’s David Fahrentholt described Hethmon and Kobach as “the most successful propagators of a powerful idea: that state and local governments can make life so miserable for illegal immigrants that they would choose to deport themselves.”
Fahrentholt could have also described that “powerful idea” as the doctrine of “self-deportation” – a policy that is staunchly promoted by the anti-immigrant movement, but widely panned by American voters (see: Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 presidential bid).
In a report published at the end of 2013, FAIR noted that “many uninformed legislators backed off pro-enforcement legislation for fear of lawsuits threatened by pro-amnesty advocates” after the US Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling on SB 1070. It has been several years and the anti-immigrant movement is well aware of the advances immigrant advocates have made since that decision. The coupling of new leadership for the anti-immigrant movement’s legal arm and increased GOP control of state legislatures, along with the added benefit of time further masking the toxic qualities and public perception of SB 1070-like legislation, could signify that the movement is ready to fight back.
And with President Obama’s recently announced executive actions, the anti-immigrant movement has a new opportunity to distort facts and mischaracterize current policies as a means to advance its agenda. Indeed, they have already begun to express their opposition in state capitols and courts:
- Days before President Obama’s announcement, a Georgia state legislator pre-filed a bill that would prevent administrative relief beneficiaries from getting driver’s licenses. The Marrieta Daily-Journal reports Georgia state Sen. Josh McKoon drafted the bill “with substantial input” from A. King – a prominent, Georgia-based anti-immigrant activist with close ties to FAIR.
- On Wednesday, Texas Attorney General and Governor-elect Greg Abbott announced he has filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration’s executive relief program along with 16 other states. The lawsuit is likely the same one IRLI’s Kris Kobach was drafting, as reported by The Washington Post last month. This is the 31st lawsuit Abbot has filed against the federal government since 2009.
- On November 21, IRLI also won a minor battle by convincing a U.S. district court that the Washington Alliance of Tech Workers have standing in a case against President Obama’s actions regarding work visas. An IRLI press release indicates the group prepared the lawsuit with Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) fellow John Miano.
The President’s recent executive actions will likely not be IRLI and its allies’ only target. Emboldened by Oregon’s November referendum vote, the movement will likely push for other states to prohibit undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses. Proposals to expand enforcement policies like mandatory worksite verification and programs facilitating cooperation between local police and federal immigration officials like 287(g) – perennial favorites of the movement – are also sure to appear in some states and municipalities.
Despite the many setbacks it has faced over the last two years, the anti-immigrant movement is showing that it will continue working to enact discriminatory legislation and challenge current policies that advance immigrant rights.
These policies may not be as sweeping as previous efforts like SB 1070, but the motivations and ultimate goals of maligning immigrant communities are the same.