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State Lawmakers Weigh Costs Of Copying Arizona On Immigration

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WASHINGTON -- After Arizona passed its contentious immigration enforcement bill, SB 1070, last April, state legislatures across the country took note. Copycat legislation was promised in more than 40 states, most of which followed through during legislative sessions this year.

But as the cost crept up on Arizona's SB 1070, many states backed off -- including Arizona, where anti-illegal immigration bills failed this year.

In the few states still considering copycat legislation, business groups and immigrant advocates are hoping to sway lawmakers with potential economic consequences of passing anti-immigrant bills. It's a strategy that has worked elsewhere, as business and rights groups held up Arizona as an example of the financial pitfalls of anti-immigrant laws. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has spent more than $1.5 million on legal fees in defense of SB 1070. The law never fully went into effect after a court ruling in July, a decision that was upheld on Monday by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Someone told us you don't touch the heart of someone that is hating you, you convince them through the pocket," Teodoro Maus, president of Georgia Latino Alliance, told HuffPost.

Beyond costly lawsuits, opponents of SB 1070-style bills are warning lawmakers that their states could lose tens of thousands of dollars in tourism. Outrage over the Arizona law sparked a boycott of the state, and the tourism industry was hit hardest after conventions moved elsewhere and tourists canceled trips. Although it's unclear exactly how much business was lost -- estimates range from $15 million to $150 million -- the boycott served as a warning against copycat bills.

"In Arizona's case the boycott [worked]," said Muzaffar Chishti, director of Migration Policy Institute in New York. "The economic loss was too blatant to ignore and they began to communicate that to the lawmakers. They began to say 'we know you want to be tough on immigration, but don't kill our businesses.' It's a big reversal in one short year."

Critics of an SB 1070-style bill in Georgia gathered at the state capitol on Monday to urge Republican Gov. Nathan Deal to drop legislation that already made it through the House, Senate and a conference committee. Signs, shaped like tombstones, warned of the "death" of certain industries if the bill became law: "RIP Hotels," "RIP Conventions."

A coalition of immigrant rights groups sent a letter to Deal last week threatening to boycott the state if he signs anti-illegal immigration bills into law. Another boycott effort was mounted by the Georgia Latino Alliance, which is running ads asking Latinos stop shopping at certain retailers unless they come out against the immigration bill.

If the bill does become a law, Maus said his organization hopes to team up with outside groups to sue the state. "What we're hoping is that we'll have enough support from outside that we can overwhelm them with suits," he said.

In Virginia, immigrant rights groups were able to successfully team up with labor unions to lobby against anti-immigrant bills. The groups collected letters, held community gatherings, and encouraged people to go to Richmond to lobby the legislature to reject the bills. Their main argument, like that of many other states, was that an immigration law would be bad for the economy, said Rishi Awatramani, communications director for Virginia New Majority. The bills were rejected by a Senate subcommittee in February.

"The main thing is that we are clear that the vast majority of Virginians are struggling with economic security and none of the 20 bills dealt with questions of economic security," he said. "Everybody was able to see through the rhetoric and see that there's a real crisis and it's an economic one and it won't be fixed by scapegoating immigrants."

In Indiana, a House committee chairman will decide this week whether to take up an anti-immigration bill after pressure from business and immigrant rights groups to drop it. The bill was already passed by the state Senate, but may die in the House.

George Raymond, vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said his organization is lobbying against the bill, particularly the portion that allows officers to stop and question those they "reasonably suspect" to be undocumented. Some Indiana businesses, such as pharmaceutical giant Lilly, legally employ highly-skilled foreign workers who they are concerned could be profiled under the bill, Raymond said.

"It's hard enough to get people to come to Indiana, and it's even harder to get people to come to Columbus, Indiana," he said. "If you're a foreign national and you have concerns that you're going to be stopped, and you have other options, you may take one of those."

The Chamber has also raised concerns from the state's travel industry over losing convention bookings, which contribute millions of dollars to the state's economy. About five conventions have said they would move elsewhere if Indiana passed its anti-illegal immigration bill into law, Raymond said.

Even without boycotts or lost tourism, critics of SB 1070-like bills said driving out illegal immigrants is bad for the economy.

"Ripping people out of your economy is bad for your economy in ways it is very hard to enumerate," Wendy Sefsaf said. "Once people started to realize that immigrants are consumers, they're paying sales tax, a lot of people are paying income tax."

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