Lesson from Arizona: Proceed with Caution

As debate continues over SB 1070, the Arizona law that would essentially codify racial profiling as accepted police practice, no group is paying closer attention than the state lawmakers and politicians who have declared their intentions to enact similar laws in their states. Not only are they following news on the lawsuit, they are also closely examining the impact of the law on Arizona's image and economy. Though the SB 1070 legal battle won't be resolved for several more months, one crucial lesson can already be gleaned from the state's experience with SB 1070: Promoting intolerance comes with a price; proceed with caution.

There is no doubt that the impact of SB 1070 has resonated in the state of Arizona. Already, estimated fees for the legal defense of SB 1070 are more than $1 million--and that's only for expenses through July. As the debate about immigration has transformed Arizona from the "Grand Canyon State" to the "Show Me Your Papers State," Phoenix alone stands to lose an estimated $90 million in hotel and convention business over the next five years as a result of meetings, conventions, and conferences that have been moved out of the state. To combat the negative effect she created by signing SB 1070 into law, Governor Jan Brewer has allocated $250,000 in state funds for a marketing campaign to try to restore the state's image.

Is this the road that other states want to follow?

The answer, in several cases, has already been "no." Despite the media hype about Arizona copycat legislation and the number of states considering it--a symptom of election-season politics--nine states have already heeded the "caution" sign. One example is Florida, where state legislators voted not to take up a copycat bill during this year's special legislative session. In Louisiana, copycat bill HB 1205 was defeated in the house judiciary committee, and in both Arkansas and Nevada, proposed SB 1070 copycat ballot measures failed to make it onto the midterm ballot. In Pennsylvania and Michigan, where copycat bills were introduced, the legislatures didn't even give the bills enough credence for debate. Legislators in Utah may also abandon earlier plans to introduce an Arizona copycat bill in 2011. After a "fact-finding" trip to Arizona last month, lawmakers saw firsthand the public relations fallout and tarnished brand that Arizona has experienced as a result of SB 1070.

Lessons can also be learned from the impact that misguided immigration enforcement proposals have on local budgets. In towns such as Hazleton, PA or Farmers Branch, TX, millions of city dollars have been spent to defend anti-immigrant proposals--proposals initiated by groups who swooped in from outside the state and left local taxpayers holding the bag for legal fees. Before the economic crisis hit, this situation was untenable. In these times of budget crises, it's suicidal.

No good can come to states that are still considering SB 1070 copycat legislation. As the SB 1070 debate unfolds, politicians across the nation have started--and should continue--to take note of the price their states will pay if they push forward with Arizona copycat legislation. These proposals are false promises at a time when Americans are looking for real solutions to fix our nation's broken immigration system.

This post is also crossposted at www.nclr.org/blog