States' immigration efforts fizzle

By Laura Wides-Munoz

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 23 2011 8:10 p.m. MDT

But experts on both sides credit businesses for much of the legislations' failure.

"Business owners came out of the woodwork in a way they hadn't done before," said Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a national federation of mostly small-business owners who support immigration reform.

Many Florida businesses said they feared the economic damage that would be caused if the state were hit by a tourism boycott like the one immigrant rights groups organized against Arizona.

In Arizona, 60 top executives signed a letter to Arizona's Senate president, asking for a moratorium on immigration bills.

Indianapolis-based drug maker Eli Lilly was among those who publicly opposed an Arizona-style bill. Last week, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed into law more modest bills: the in-state tuition ban and an end to tax credits for companies that hire illegal immigrants.

In Utah, businesses helped create the Utah Compact, the basis for the most comprehensive immigration law to come out of the states. It resembles Arizona on enforcement but allows illegal immigrants to work in Utah. A judge blocked the bill last week, following the ACLU lawsuit.

Jacoby acknowledged many businesses particularly opposed E-verify.

Indeed, in Florida, the House and Senate couldn't reach a compromise on the E-verify component, and the proposals died. The Indiana and Alabama legislatures faced similar splits between their House and Senate over measures targeting employers.

Jacoby said it was the Arizona-like enforcement sections of the bills that generated the attention and public debate, and that in many states, E-verify went down along with them.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates stricter limits on immigration, believes many businesses concerned about E-verify cynically stoked opposition to the bills by emphasizing the enforcement angle.

"The businesses community really did pull out all the stops on this, and I have to give them props," Krikorian said. "The strategy was to make a big deal about Arizona-style legislation in order to scare off E-verify."

Immigrants and their supporters were also ready to battle, capitalizing on networks they developed in recent years in response to Arizona's law and the federal government's stepped-up deportation efforts.

In Florida, farmworkers, students and other immigrants and activists spent weeks at the Capitol, protesting and praying during committee hearings but also lobbying heavily behind the scenes.

In Kansas, they quickly spread a YouTube clip of Republican State Rep. Virgil Peck likening illegal immigrants to feral hogs, generating a swift backlash nationwide that helped doom bills there.

The progressive Latino group Democracia USA took out ads against proposals in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Florida. President Jorge Mursuli said backers of some state bills couldn't answer basic questions about the legislation, such as whether families hiring nannies would have to use E-verify, or whether employers would be on the hook for unemployment insurance for new hires found ineligible to work.

"A lot of folks were doing this as a political stunt, rather than as a real policy effort," he said.

Still, those itching for action in Washington may get their wish. Immigration groups and those who support enforcement-only measures say they will redouble lobbying efforts at the federal level. Last week, Democratic senators in Washington reintroduced the Dream Act, though it's unlikely to pass the Republican-led House, and certainly not before the 2012 election.

President Barack Obama also gave his second speech in two weeks on immigration.

Krikorian noted the Supreme Court will soon rule on the constitutionality of a 2007 Arizona law that mandated all companies there use E-verify. If that law is upheld, he believes other states will again follow Arizona's lead.

"Then the game isn't over," he said.

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