High court's stance could spur immigration laws

By David Crary

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, April 28 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In several states where neither major party has a monopoly on power — Iowa, Colorado, Montana and Kentucky, among them — lawmakers said the fate of any hardline immigration bill likely will depend on the outcome of state elections in November.

One of Kentucky's leading critics of illegal immigration, Republican Rep. Stan Lee, said an Arizona-style bill has little chance of overcoming staunch opposition from the Democratic majority in the House.

"Even if the Supreme Court upholds all or virtually all of that, I don't expect to pursue any of that type of legislation unless there's a significant change in the makeup of the House," Lee said. "The votes, as I've discovered, just aren't there."

In Minnesota, Republican Rep. Steve Drazkowski said he'll consider proposing a bill modeled in part on the Arizona law but acknowledged that it could well be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, whose term runs until 2014.

In Kansas, where Republicans dominate, GOP legislators are split over immigration, preventing action both on proposals to crack down on illegal immigration and a business-backed program to place some immigrants in hard-to-fill jobs in farming and other sectors.

Among the leaders of the get-tough faction in Kansas is Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a former law professor who helped write the Arizona and Alabama laws. Kobach said the Supreme Court arguments bolstered his view that the most controversial part of the Arizona law — the "show your papers" provision — would withstand a legal challenge.

If the Supreme Court upholds key parts of the law, "it will be a huge green light," he said. "All of the other states will have a blueprint that they can copy."

In Virginia, which already has numerous restrictive immigration laws, Republican Delegate David Albo said there may not be room for many more.

"We're already bumping up against the legal limits of what we're allowed to do," said Albo, author of a law that denies adult illegal immigrants non-emergency public benefits such as food stamps and welfare benefits.

In many states, there is little or no prospect for adopting Arizona-style laws anytime soon. In some cases, such as in Idaho, it's because the agriculture industry worries about losing needed workers; elsewhere it's a question of immigrant-friendly politics.

"I can't envision the state adopting the position that we should be enforcing immigrant laws," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, noting that his state has ample law enforcement challenges on its plate already.

In Illinois, which has some of the most immigrant-friendly laws in the nation, Republican Rep. Randy Ramey has tried four times to propose an Arizona-style law but failed to get a measure out of committee. Heartened by the Supreme Court arguments, Ramey said he may try again despite the odds.

"It encourages me, but doesn't mean anything will move here as long as Democrats are in charge," he said. "They'll just laugh at it."

Stands on the issue don't always follow predictable party lines. Republican Govs. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada — both Hispanics — say Arizona-style laws aren't needed in their states. Hispanics account for 46 percent of the population in New Mexico, the highest proportion of any state.

"Gov. Martinez fully believes that any policies addressing illegal immigration have to begin at the federal level," said her spokesman, Greg Blair.

There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Of that total, roughly 6.1 million are from Mexico, down from nearly 7 million in 2007, according to a Pew Hispanic Center study released Monday. That decline has coincided with a cooling-off of the immigration debate in some states, such as Tennessee.

"It doesn't seem to have the same numbers that were here a couple of years ago," said state Sen. Bill Ketron, a Republican who has sponsored a number of bills targeting illegal immigrants.

Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, predicted that most states — regardless of the Supreme Court's decision — would stay away from Arizona-type laws out of self-interest.

"For most of them, the balance sheets do not add up," she said, referring to the Alabama law that has created burdens for some business and caused farmers to complain about lack of workers to pick their crops.

Vermont, where a growing number of Hispanic migrants work in the dairy industry, is among a handful of states overtly welcoming immigrants regardless of their legal status. Last fall, Gov. Peter Shumlin urged police to "look the other way" when the only legal problem might be an immigration violation.

"Vermont is the antithesis of Arizona," said Rep. Suzi Wizowaty of Burlington, who has backed a bill to require police to follow such policies. "Our goal in Vermont is to be the kind of place that welcomes all kinds of people."

The welcome mat is out in Alaska, also.

"We want more immigrants," said Republican Rep. Paul Seaton. "There just aren't people from here to do the work."

Associated Press writers John Hanna in Topeka, Kan.; Bob Johnson in Montgomery, Ala.; Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vt.; Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pa.; Roger Alford in Lexington, Ky.; Sophia Tareen in Chicago and numerous other AP writers contributed to this report. David Crary can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CraryAP

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