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Carlos Batara - Immigration Attorney

Arizona SB 1070 Copycat Initiative Battle Begins In California

– Posted in: The Obama Years

The biggest obstacle to immigration reform is not the give-and-take of the political process.  It’s the opposition by those who are 100% against any type of pro-immigrant reform.

Last month, for instance, opponents of immigration reform announced a new anti-immigration initiative in California.  Modeled after Arizona’s controversial law, SB 1070, they will soon begin collecting signatures to place the proposal, the “Support Federal Immigration Act,” on the California ballot in 2012.

By early next year, you will find signature collectors, many of whom will not know the meaning of the ballot proposition they’re pushing, sitting outside your favorite California grocery store.

Even worse, those behind the initiative do not know if any of the provisions they copied from the Arizona law will survive judicial review.

Still, immigration opponents are willing to spend several thousand dollars pushing this initiative, causing the State of California to spend even more in placing it on the ballot.

For immigration opponents, this approach is not uncommon.  Compromise is not a word in their vocabulary.

The California Initiative: A Replay Of Arizona SB 1070

Tea Party activist Michael Erickson, a leading proponent of the initiative, states he has studied the Arizona federal judge’s injunctive decision and is confident the California proposal will survive legal challenges.

However, from my standpoint as a green card and citizenship lawyer, various provisions of the proposal do not appear constitutionally distinct from Arizona SB 1070.

To begin, the measure requires state and local law enforcement officers to investigate the immigration status of anyone they lawfully stop and “reasonably” suspect may be in the country illegally.

Other aspects of the proposal include:

  • Barring undocumented immigrants from seeking work in California, while concealing their immigration status and barring employers from intentionally or negligently hiring them
  • Barring law enforcement agencies and local jurisdictions from restricting enforcement of federal immigration laws, i.e., so-called “sanctuary” policies
  • Transporting undocumented immigrants would be a state crime

Frankly, I disagree with Erickson’s benign characterization of the Tea Party proposal.

If it reads, sounds, and smells like that Arizona rat, SB 1070 . . .

Is There A Need For An Arizona-Style Initiative In California?

The proposal, at minimum, is premature.  So why are Erickson and his followers pushing a reincarnated anti-immigration initiative in California?

According to their public view, their action has been prompted, even before the Arizona legal battle runs its course, due to concerns about the spillover effects of the Arizona law.

“Our concern is with the possibility, if not probability, of an increase in not only illegal immigration in California but with a drug infestation,” Erickson has said, “in part because Arizona is cracking down in their state.”

As a Riverside immigration attorney, I have learned such fear-mongering is not unusual with immigration opponents.

There is no factual basis for the concerns noted by Erickson.  Yet, these types of unsubstantiated worries tend to spread virally throughout the public if they are left unchecked.

This is yet another example how those opposed to all immigration reform keep the public divided on what constitutes rational immigration reform.

The Bandwagon Effect

California is not alone in fighting this type of anti-immigration insanity.

Copycat legislation is the rage of the moment on the immigration politics scene.

Several states, as discussed in  Immigration Reform Madness, have introduced legislation similar to, and in some cases harsher than, Arizona SB 1070:

States That Have Introduced Copycat Legislation:

    Rhode Island
    South Carolina

States That Are Considering Copycat Legislation:

    North Carolina

California Is Unlikely To Join The Arizona Bandwagon

Unlike many of the states listed above, California tends to be immigrant friendly.

In the recent governor’s election, the GOP candidate who strongly campaigned against illegal immigration, lost by a fairly sizable margin.

Angelica Salas, executive director of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, explains, “What we saw on Nov. 2, those candidates who dabble with racism, xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments and policies, lose badly in statewide elections.”

I agree with Salas.  But I don’t think her position fully addresses the electoral politics surrounding this initiative.

As a ballot proposition, the voting dynamics are different than with electing a candidate for governor.  In the past, California has supported a liberal candidate while voting conservatively on ballot measures.  And vice-versa.

Additionally, the anti-immigration forces behind the current initiative are likely anticipating a large turnout in the 2012 primaries.  The ballot will be voted on at the same time voters go to the polls to select their choices for the Democrat and Republican tickets  for President.

Unless Obama faces a serious challenge from within his party, Democratic voters will not be as motivated as their Republic opponents seeking to find his successor. This gives them a strategic opening to push the initiative through the California public.

In short, it will require all pro-immigration reform hands on deck to defeat a well-funded anti-immigration measure.  It will not be an easy battle.

Your support will be needed.

By , Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics