As Congress Watches, States Wrestle with Immigration Laws
Apr 16, 2012
Congressional failure to provide national uniformity is leading to several states acting disparately. As that inconsistency becomes more evident, Congress must restore uniform standards on this decidedly national issue.
By Ryan Miltner, attorney
It certainly looks like the chances of Congress acting on immigration in any way that positively impacts agriculture this year are about as good as Ron Paul’s chances of winning the Republican nomination for President.
In fact, the Congressional staff members that I have spoken with are uniformly in agreement that there is “no way” that immigration reform gets taken up before the November elections.
In the face of this Congressional vacuum, states are acting. The results are not as you might expect. As I look at the most recent developments in state immigration legislative actions, it appears that states are beginning to learn that extreme immigration laws, regardless of their stated intent, are detrimental to state economies.
What is meant by “extreme immigration laws”?
Well, the term is not my own. I’ve borrowed it from www.immigrationimpact.com
, a blog advocating for the type of comprehensive immigration reform that so much of the agricultural community longs for. As one example of such an extreme law, the site identifies Alabama’s “Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act.”
The Beason-Hammon Act, which includes provisions mandating the use of E-Verify, has had several of its provisions blocked by federal courts. The E-Verify provision, however, remains in effect. Meanwhile, the Alabama legislature is conducting hearings on revising provisions of the law.
In neighboring Mississippi, a measure modeled after Beason-Hammon died in committee. One reason cited was opposition from both Mississippi law enforcement and Mississippi farmers. Law enforcement opposed the proposed bill because of the costs to local law enforcement agencies. Farm groups pointed specifically to the damage inflicted on Alabama farms after the passage of Beason-Hammon, including the inability to get crops harvested.
That theme, a lack of agricultural workers, has repeated itself where harsh immigration laws have been passed. According to the American Immigration Council’s Immigration Policy Center, 56% of Georgia farmers had trouble finding workers after the state passed an immigration enforcement bill. Plantings in Alabama have been cut back because of similar worries. In Kansas, the state Secretary of Agriculture is requesting that the Department of Homeland Security provide waivers to permit farmers to hire what would otherwise be undocumented workers through a state monitored program.
Looking beyond agriculture, the Immigration Policy Center provides information on the broader economic impacts of state laws like Beason-Hammon. Executives from Japan and Germany were cited for not having sufficient documentation while visiting Honda and Mercedes plants in Alabama.
Republican legislators are concerned about the impacts incidents like these will have on future investment in the state. In Arizona, an estimated $45 million in tourism dried up after its immigration law was passed. E-Verify requirements could cost small businesses an average of $435 each per year. Additionally, there are costs of implementation, litigation, and enforcement.
As a result, Mississippi joins a growing list of states that are choosing to not follow the lead of Arizona and Alabama. The result will be as some predicted over the past few years. Congressional failure to provide national uniformity is leading to states acting disparately. As that disparity becomes more evident, the next step will be for Congress to step in and restore uniform standards on this decidedly national issue.
Ryan Miltner is an agricultural and estate planning lawyer in private practice. His agricultural practice is focused on dairy policy and the economic regulation of the dairy industry. The opinions in this article are his own observations prepared for Dairy Today and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any of his clients. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.