Oct. 14, 2010: guests swim in the pool at the Intercontinental Montelucia Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz. A boycott of Arizona spurred by an immigration law has cost the state more than $140 million in lost meeting and convention business.
Op-Ed, Boston Globe
November 21, 2011
Author: Juliette Kayyem, Lecturer in Public Policy
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
Alabama and Arizona suffer the unintended consequences of bad laws
THIS WEEK, millions of Americans will buy gifts and goods they don't need and never really wanted. A new piano looks pretty fine at half-price. That’s the beauty of Black Friday, our post-Thanksgiving credit card workout. Supported by a marketing campaign that links shopping to the Pilgrims, Black Friday urges us to buy because it’s the American thing to do. But many will wake up Saturday with a lot of remorse.
Anti-immigrant legislation is the public policy equivalent of Black Friday. Caught up in a kind of fervor, states have been falling all over each other to pass sweeping legislation in their efforts to be tougher at the border. And they don't even have to be border states. It's good politics, but not exactly good governing. Now a few states are waking up with their own version of buyer’s remorse, and they only have themselves to blame.
Arizona, the poster child of a "papers, please" immigration strategy, just booted its anti-immigrant leader, Republican state Senator Russell Pearce, in a recall election and replaced him with a former Mormon bishop who urges "humanity" in immigration laws. Pearce had led the effort for Arizona's border policies, but his enthusiasm for race-baiting may have been his undoing. As Pearce and his allies introduced more and more bills, each trying to ratchet up the anti-immigrant fervor, many Arizona Republicans could feel the 21st century passing the state by. Business leaders and investors were concerned about the state’s reputation, as a sustained "Boycott Arizona" effort continued to have traction.
They may have also been looking at the polls. This month, in an Arizona State University poll, 78 percent of residents supported a more lenient strategy toward immigrants, including undocumented residents. Under the right circumstances — such as if illegal immigrants paid a fine and submitted to a criminal background check — a majority of Arizonans would favor changes to the law.
In Alabama, meanwhile, business leaders and lawmakers are feeling the tinge of a new law written with such haste that no one actually can figure out what it means. According to the New York Times, the law states that an individual must provide proof of lawful immigration status for any interaction "between a person and the state or a political subdivision of the state." Vast government resources are now being used to ensure that local pee-wee football leagues are not filled with undocumented Mexican children. One Alabama public safety official told me that the farming and meat industry are already worried about the law's impact on its labor market. "By the time we figure out what this thing means," he said, "we will all be vegetarians."
Alabama and Arizona certainly knew the price of anti-immigrant fervor, putting aside the civil liberties implications. The implementation costs to train police, judges, and local governments are astronomical. The Justice Department has filed suit against Alabama and Arizona, and the litigation won't be cheap. Businesses and international investors steer clear of unwelcoming states, and actions by individual states complicate national planning for multi-state companies.
States like Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, and Indiana are outliers. They had a choice. In 2011, 16 states rejected anti-immigrant bills that were similar to Arizona's law. Their leadership — Republican and Democrat — understood the facts and evidence: No good comes from this behavior. Arizona's tourism industry alone, for example, lost $253 million in economic output, over $141 million in direct spending by convention attendees, and 2,800 jobs related to the industry in one year.
There is every reason to praise the rise of fact-based policy making in Alabama, Georgia, and the few other jurisdictions that rushed to pass anti-immigrant policies and are now rethinking that strategy. But they knew about the downside of these laws as they were being passed. There was no shortage of evidence suggesting that in a bad economic climate, welcoming states would fare better. But like shoppers at an overhyped sale, they let emotion get the better of them. They should get very little pity for now realizing the errors of their ways.
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