Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer just signed into law the controversial immigration bill that has drawn national scrutiny and triggered furious protests. "I firmly believe it represents what's best for Arizona," she said. The bill "strengthens the laws of our state. It protects all of us." And, she added, "it does so while ensuring the constitutional rights of all in Arizona remain solid, stable, and steadfast."
The measure allows state and local police to enforce immigration law and requires officers, "when practicable," to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally. It also allows citizens to sue cities if they believe the law isn't being properly enforced. A wide array of opponents, from civil-liberties groups to law-enforcement organizations, have decried the measure, arguing that it would place additional burdens on police departments, discourage immigrants from cooperating on investigations, and possibly lead to racial profiling.
Yet the law could end up affecting not just the undocumented, but all Arizonans. As a number of critics have pointed out, the potential economic consequences of the law could be severe. This is no small matter in a state with a $3 billion deficit, where lawmakers recently took a cleaver to the budget and eliminated everything from parks funding to a health-care program for low-income kids. Last year, The Daily Show's Jason Jones did a cringe-inducing segment featuring state lawmakers hoping to hawk the Capitol building to generate some desperately needed cash.
If the critics are right, the new law could add millions of dollars in costs to the state. The Immigration Policy Center, for instance, points to the estimated costs of a 2006 immigration bill that would have authorized police to arrest undocumented immigrants on trespassing charges (that measure ended up getting vetoed by then governor Janet Napolitano). The analysis, by the Yuma County sheriff, calculated that the measure would have cost, just in the first year, at least $21 million in jail expenses, at least $800,000 in attorney and staff fees, and at least $775,000 in processing expenses. And that was for just one of Arizona's 15 counties.
Others have raised additional concerns. Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a staunch opponent of the Arizona law, recently remarked on CNN that the measure is likely to trigger a wave of lawsuits that could drain city and state coffers. According to a February 2008 report from the National Employment Law Project, many localities have faced steep legal costs after implementing harsh immigration ordinances. And beyond the potential pile-up of expenses, there's the lost revenue if immigrants decide to decamp the state. The IPC cites a study by the Perryman Group estimating that if all illegal immigrants were removed from Arizona, the state would lose more than $26 billion in economic activity. In such dire economic times, these numbers are downright scary. And selling off the Capitol building wouldn't even begin to remedy them.