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Hart: 'Bama follows Az footsteps on immigration
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Hart: 'Bama follows Az footsteps on immigration

Arizonans who still take pride in our state for leading the national charge against undocumented immigration might want to take a quick glance over their shoulders.

Where'd our followers go?

What a difference three years can make. Way back in 2010, Gov. Jan Brewer had just signed Senate Bill 1070, which enlisted local cops in the hunt for the undocumented, required the latter to carry "papers" proving their legal status, and enacted several other measures aimed at driving the undocumented out of the state – and, preferably, the country.

SB1070, the culmination of years' of anti-immigrant initiatives in Arizona, quickly became lionized – and vilified – around the world. Arizona emerged as the clear leader in this battle for America's ethnic soul, and state legislatures around the county rushed copycat bills onto their agendas.

Among the most eager followers was Alabama, which quickly enacted a SB 1070 clone that – among other things – contained its own "show your papers" law, required schools to report how many students are in the country illegally or have undocumented parents, and made it illegal for undocumented residents to engage in business transactions or look for work.

But that was then.

Last week, Alabama's attorney general agreed to a legal settlement* that bars the state from enforcing many key provisions of its SB 1070-ish statute; pays $350,000 in attorney fees to immigrant rights groups that challenged it; and restricts when local police can check the immigration status of suspects in custody. "We have a duty to follow the law as set forth by the courts," said Attorney General Luther Strange, expressing a sentiment that might strike some Arizona campaigners as less than heroic.

This blow to the national anti-immigrant campaign was not entirely unanticipated. The Alabama law had already faced severe judicial scrutiny, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down most – though not all – of Arizona's SB 1070 in June 2012. The guiding principle in the high court's decision was that, regardless of Arizonans' fervor and frustration, immigration remains a matter of federal, not state law. Lower courts have also blocked parts of SB 1070 clones in Georgia and South Carolina.

But all is not lost for the anti-immigrant camp. The U.S. Supreme Court decision did uphold a controversial SB 1070 provision that allows police to check a person's immigration status with the federal government during a lawful police stop. However, the decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy made it clear that the court will be keeping a close eye on the conduct of such "status checks." More litigation, anyone?

And Alabama can still require businesses to use a federal database to ensure that new hires are in the country legally. It can also prevent undocumented immigrants from attending public colleges or seeking business licenses.

That's something, though a far cry from the hard-charging days of 2010. And it seems to leave Arizonans rather short of rank and file to lead in a battle that many still consider vitally important. But there's hope on the horizon: Congress and the White House may take up the immigration issue again, thus rousing the troops and once again filling the air with invective. If, that is, the federal government can stay open long enough to resume battle.

Bill Hart is a senior policy analyst at Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

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