by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger
While Arizona's draconian anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, was far from the first controversial immigration measure of its kind, it stands out as a hallmark of increasingly visible nativist sentiment. Numerous legal challenges and a federal injunction notwithstanding, the measure continues to inspire copycat legislation and attract millions in donations. Even as Arizona's legislature attempts to outdo itself by pushing increasingly outrageous bills, as Care2 reports, SB 1070 remains center stage.
Perhaps one reason that the measure has gained such traction across the country is that its crafters have been unequivocal about both their intent and the law's objective: Attrition through enforcement.
"That's a fancy way of saying it's public policy aimed at making the lives of immigrants so miserable that they leave on their own accord," explained community organizer Marisa Franco on Making Contact, a National Radio Project program. Andrea Christina Mercado, organizing director of Mujeres Unidas Activas and another guest on this week's show, added that the "attrition through enforcement" strategy exemplified by SB 1070 centers on three pernicious tactics:
"...One is to close off all possibility for economic survival, the second part is to deny access to justice for migrants, making it harder and harder to place a wage claim or a police report, and the third is to normalize mistreatment through rituals of humiliation and hateful language."
SB 1070: coming to a state near you!
While reprehensible to immigrant rights advocates, the "attrition through enforcement" approach to the immigration "problem" is refreshing to immigration hawks. The strategy's unabashed method of self-evicting undocumented migrants through calculated marginalization is the kind of tough, no-nonsense policy that hardliners appreciate. Consequently, similar measures have spread like wildfire across states and municipalities. That such laws directly defy federal immigration policy goals seems only to increase their popularity among immigration hardliners.
Case in point: The incoming wave of newly elected, anti-immigrant governors pushing for SB 1070 copycat laws. As Braden Goyette reports at Campus Progress, governors-elect in Georgia, Florida, Nebraska, Mississippi, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Oklahoma hope to follow in Arizona's footsteps. Nebraska's Dave Heineman (R) explicitly campaigned on that hope, and Georgia's Nathan Deal (R) plans to push for a copycat law as soon as January 2011.
State legislators are moving quickly on similar laws as well. Most recently, Texas State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R) filed a spate of anti-immigration legislation in advance of the 2011 legislative session. According to Change.org's Prerna Lal, Riddle's bills would collectively limit immigrants' access to public education, intensify the penalties for being undocumented in the state, and even prevent undocumented persons from driving there. In total, the proposed measures embody the attrition-through-enforcement philosophy by attempting to make it impossible for undocumented immigrants to live in the state with any measure of quality of life.
Setting the stage for anti-immigrant laws
The attrition-through-enforcement strategy is contagious. But, as ColorLines' Seth Freed Wessler points out, infection follows a predictable pattern. Citing a recent Migration Policy Institute study, Wessler explains that anti-immigrant laws tend to pop up in largely homogeneous white communities that experience an increase in the population of immigrants. The actual size of the immigrant population doesn't seem to matter, and the study found that crime rates are equally irrelevant (and have no correlation to rates of immigration). The only thing that does matter is growth, however small.
It's important to note that in largely homogeneous communities, which generally tend to be segregated along ethnic lines anyway, small fluctuations in minority populations aren't glaringly evident to most residents. Growth among immigrant populations doesn't immediately or spontaneously spark nativist sentiment. In most cases, that growth is noted by incendiary elites, who then repackage and sell it back to the larger community as an "immigration problem." In Wessler's words:
Crime is not actually higher because of immigration but individual incidents of crime, or the presence of day laborers on street corners, are used as animating tools by restrictionist groups. Support for the resolutions are drummed up by local politicians and demagogues, as well as national groups that often play a role in drafting the bills, who concoct a narrative about dangerous criminal immigrants.
As I've written before, anti-immigrant sentiment is driven by the fear that, as immigrant communities grow larger and more economically competitive, their increasing political power will threaten the status quo. And so politicos feed the immigrant-as-criminal narrative to their communities, bit by bit, eventually passing pernicious laws intended to self-evict the threat.
Thus far, 107 communities have passed anti-immigrant laws in the last 10 years, the bulk of them since 2006, when heightened discourse on immigration reform motivated anti-immigrant groups to redouble their efforts. A few years later, Arizona state senator Russell Pearce (R) teamed up with Kris Kobach--a lawyer for FAIR, the most powerful anti-immigrant group in the nation--to draft SB 1070 which has now unleashed a new wave of oppressive immigration laws.
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