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Weekly Diaspora: One year after SB 1070, what's changed?

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A year ago this month, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, effectively pushing an already vibrant anti-immigrant movement to a new extreme. Over the following months, immigrant rights advocates prepared for the worst, and grappled with multiple setbacks as other states threatened to follow Arizona's example.

Looking back, though, it's clear that the draconian immigration law hasn't quite measured up to its bad reputation -- in part because a federal injunction blocked several of its more pernicious provisions. Kent Peterson at New America Media/Frontera NorteSur suggests that anti-immigrant policymakers "overreached" with SB 1070, pushing the restrictionist movement to its own peak with the controversial law.

Arizona's political influence has waned

Certainly in the long term, the law seems to have done more harm than good to the movement. While it initially added plenty of fuel to the restrictionists' fire, it has ultimately failed to spread through other states the way many expected it to. While a few states (see Colorlines.com's infographic or Alternet's rundown) are still considering SB 1070-type laws, most others have backed off the idea.

As Seth Hoy explains at Alternet/Immigration Impact, "states learned from Arizona -- the numerous protests, Supreme Court challenge, costly litigation, economic boycotts that are still costing state businesses millions -- and rejected similar laws." Peterson similarly notes that a number of states have moved away from Arizona's example because of SB 1070's unexpected economic consequences -- chiefly, an estimated $769 million in economic and tax revenues lost as a result of boycotts.

Immigrants still marginalized

That's not say that the law has had no effect on immigrants. While a federal judge stayed several of its provisions last summer, SB 1070 proved to be a precursor to other insidious state laws targeting immigrants. Empowered by their success with SB 1070 and the ensuing media frenzy, state legislators quickly moved forward with several other harsh laws. As Feet in Two Worlds' Valeria Fernandez explains, many immigrants in Arizona continue to live in fear even though SB 1070 is only partially enacted. She writes:

"When you talk to immigrants in the street, they'll tell you that not much has changed. Some continue to live in fear that they could be stopped by the police and deported. Others are having a difficult time getting work due to another Arizona law that harshly sanctions employers who hire undocumented immigrants."

At Colorlines.com, Seth Freed Wessler elaborates on the real impact of bills like SB 1070. He writes:

"[The bills] send waves of fear and confusion into immigrant communities. … In the period since SB 1070 passed, uncounted numbers of immigrants have fled their homes in Arizona. … And the provisions in the law that were not blocked by the court, including one that makes it a crime to harbor or transport undocumented immigrants, put everyone at risk."

The role of the federal government

Nevertheless, Wessler points out that the federal government -- not SB 1070 and not Arizona -- is to blame for the brunt of the damage inflicted upon undocumented immigrants in the last year. Besides deporting record numbers of immigrant detainees and significantly expanding border enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security laid the groundwork for SB 1070 with its 287(g) program -- which enabled local law enforcement to act as ICE agents. Adding insult to injury, President Barack Obama never came to close to fulfilling his campaign promise of passing comprehensive immigration reform.

Whether he will do so this year is up for debate, but many reform advocates remain skeptical after last year's ups and downs. As Marcos Restrepo of the American Independent reports, several immigrant rights activists voiced disappointment after Obama convened a White House meeting on immigration last Tuesday. Chief among the critics was Pablo Alvorado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, who said in a statement:

"While we appreciate the President's effort to keep immigration reform on the national agenda, his actions belie his intent…If the President genuinely wanted to fix the broken immigration system, he would respond to the growing chorus of voices calling for the suspension of the secure communities program and move to legalize instead of further criminalize our immigrant communities."

The American Prospect's Gabriel Arana is similarly skeptical of both the president's approach to the problem, and his ability to enact meaningful reform:

"On one hand, it is laudable that the president has revived the immigration debate, but there is a reason it died last year, even with Democrats in firm control of Congress and the executive branch. Instead of trying to tack immigration reform to an enforcement bill, the president should change the frame and stop talking about immigration as a national-security issue rather than an issue in its own right."

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The AuditThe Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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