Arizona Senate Bill 1070: A failure

As seen on the Arizona Republic 23 April 2011

A year later, SB 1070 looks like a big, expensive con. It brought us boycotts, lost business, a sullied reputation, another court battle and a betrayal of Arizona's heritage.

Oh, yes. And it did nothing to make the border safer or reduce illegal immigration.

The national spotlight made Arizona look like a place where extremism is the norm. International media lapped up each outrageous statement from SB 1070 supporters. Comedians ripped a hole in the state's dignity bigger than the Grand Canyon.

Yet SB 1070 initially got good poll numbers. It was popular for two reasons. 1) The leaders who sold it to the state were that convincing. 2) People were frustrated with federal inaction. Some saw SB 1070 as a wake-up call to Washington. A year later, Congress is still sleeping.

Recent discussions from the White House about comprehensive immigration reform were the result of President Barack Obama's need to woo Latino voters before the 2012 election. Not SB 1070.

The measure widely described as Arizona's "Papers, please" law, provided a distraction from discussions about real reform. It gave cover to politicians who prefer to dodge the criticism that comes with standing up for complete solutions.

When GOP Rep. Jeff Flake decided to run for Senate, this long-time supporter of comprehensive immigration reform had a sudden conversion.

He jumped on the enforcement-first wagon.

Was that just because of SB 1070? Of course not. Arizona Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain long ago abandoned their support for a complete solution. But SB 1070's popularity gave them no reason to reconsider.

The law helped drive the debate further to the extreme edge, giving Flake no political advantage sticking to his previous position. It eroded what was left of the middle ground.

Illegal immigration is a national problem this state law could not begin to address. SB 1070 was so clearly an intrusion into federal jurisdiction that key provisions were halted by federal District Court Judge Susan Bolton before they took effect. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that injunction, with noted conservative Judge John Noonan agreeing that provisions of SB 1070 are unconstitutional.

More legal battles lie ahead. They will sap state resources and keep Arizona in an unflattering spotlight.

Arizona's sense of unity also took a beating because of SB 1070.

Latinos make up nearly a third of the state's population. They are part of Arizona's heritage and its future. But SB 1070 made even third-generation Arizona Latinos feel like targets for enhanced law-enforcement scrutiny.

The law created an atmosphere so ugly that Republican state Sen. Lori Klein felt justified in reading a letter full of anti-Latino slurs on the floor of the Senate.

This is where SB 1070 brought us.

Sixty executives from major state business interests successfully called on lawmakers to reject a new round of immigration bills this year.

This is where the horrible experience of SB 1070 should take us. Arizonans have to continue to speak out against the SB 1070 approach.

Lessons are being learned elsewhere.

The wave of copycat bills in other states has largely fizzled - even in Kansas, where SB 1070 architect Kris Kobach is secretary of state. He couldn't sell his state this poison.

Meanwhile, Utah took a look at what Arizona did and crafted a comprehensive approach that includes a state guest-worker program. It acknowledges the complexity of illegal immigration and makes a humane commitment to family values and children. Arizona considered - and rejected - a similar approach several years ago.

Instead, the state bought into a false promise that remains a colossal mistake a year later.

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