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Anti-Immigrant Legislation and Activity: ADL's Response

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) promotes a fair and humane immigration policy and a responsible public debate that is true to America’s history as a nation of immigrants. We monitor the anti-immigrant movement and the impact its activities have on immigrant and non-immigrant minority members of our communities. ADL works to oppose harsh anti-immigrant legislation and proposals through letters, testimony, and amicus (friend of the court) briefs. ADL also works with the administration and law enforcement agencies to ensure that laws are enforced in a way that respects civil liberties.

The Supreme Court and Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant Law

In 2010, Arizona passed SB 1070, one of the most extreme anti-immigrant laws in the United States to date.  Arizona called the law an “attrition through enforcement” policy, seeking to make life so unbearable for undocumented immigrants that they will “self-deport.”

In Arizona v. U.S., the United States challenged SB 1070 as unconstitutional.  ADL filed an amicus brief (PDF) in support of the government’s challenge.  The brief argued that the “papers please” provision of the law puts minority communities at risk by instilling fear of police.  This provision requires police officers to verify the immigration status of a person they stop if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person is an undocumented immigrant.  In April 2012, ADL submitted testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security (PDF).  In its testimony, ADL reiterated concerns that SB 1070 would unwisely compel local law enforcement to implement federal immigration law. In June 2012, the Supreme Court struck down three of the four main provisions of SB 1070, but upheld the “papers please” provision while leaving the door open to a future challenge.

ADL Advocacy and Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR)

ADL has long advocated for Congress to pass meaningful CIR.  A comprehensive approach to reform would include (1) a border security strategy, (2) a path to legalization for immigrants contributing to this country, and (3) the assurance of equal rights for all individuals to basic human services.   In the 112th Congress, ADL urged support for the bipartisan Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act (H.R. 1842/S. 952), which would allow eligible undocumented youth to apply for legal status.

Beginning in August 2012, the administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative allowed certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to apply for work authorization and defer deportation for at least two years.  ADL welcomed this important initiative. On the state level, several governors issued executive orders denying DACA recipients public benefits, including drivers’ licenses.  ADL wrote press releases and letters to the governors expressing disappointment in their executive orders. 

ADL Weighs in Against Other Anti-Immigrant Laws Around the Country

In the wake of Arizona’s passage of SB 1070, in 2011 five states (Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana and Utah) enacted copycat laws.  ADL filed several amicus briefs urging courts to strike down such laws.  In Utah and South Carolina, where the courts blocked large parts of the law while awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision, litigation is still continuing.  In Alabama and Georgia, where the court ruled after the Supreme Court decision, it upheld the “papers please” provisions in both states but struck down other key parts of the laws.  Most notably, the court struck down the portion of the Alabama law that would have required immigration verification for children newly enrolling in K-12 public schools.

In addition to amicus briefs, ADL submitted testimony to the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) in September 2012 about the effects of state immigration laws on individuals’ civil rights.  ADL argued that by requiring police officers to check individuals’ immigration status, these laws undermine immigrant communities’ trust in law enforcement because they discourage people from reporting crimes and create an underclass of individuals uniquely vulnerable to hate crimes.

Who’s Behind These Anti-Immigrant Laws?

TheFederation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and its legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), are behind many of anti-immigrant laws currently in place in the United States. The DC-based FAIR is the largest and most powerful anti-immigrant group in the country.

When the anti-immigrant movement saw that the immigration battle was moving to the states, FAIR and IRLI helped state politicians draft anti-immigrant legislation in locales around the country. The public face of IRLI is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who holds the title “Of Counsel.”  Kobach is credited with drafting SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56, which is even harsher than Arizona’s law. Kobach also litigated on behalf of anti-immigrant laws and ordinances across the country.  Kobach’s national profile and influence increased dramatically in 2012.

Kobach, as well as representatives from anti-immigrant groups FAIR, Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA, all testified in Alabama before the USCCR at a public field briefing in August 2012. ADL sent a letter to the members of the USCCR expressing concerns about the controversial ties of the speakers and the anti-immigrant groups they represent.

Training for ICE Agents

Over the past three years, more than 700 senior Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel have participated in Law Enforcement and Society (LEAS): Lessons of the Holocaust, a training focusing on the core values of American law enforcement, run by ADL and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The entire command staff of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has participated in the program, including the head of HSI and all his senior leadership.

2013: What’s Next?

In the wake of the 2012 election, there is renewed energy for Congress to pass CIR.  Although no definitive proposals have yet been set forth, the anti-immigrant movement will likely push for any CIR bill to include a provision that requires employers to use “E-verify,” an online system that checks the work authorization of prospective employees.  Mandatory E-verify would, therefore, prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining employment.  

The debate over visas will also be an issue in 2013. The anti-immigrant movement supports increasing the amount of certain visas, such as visas for PhD graduates in math and science, in exchange for eliminating other visa categories, including the green card lottery. This lottery grants 55,000 visas to immigrants from countries with traditionally low immigration rates.

As SB 1070 and its copycats go into effect, there may be cases challenging how the laws are applied.  For example, if police officers target people based on how they look or on their English proficiency, there may be further litigation based on racial profiling. Kobach will likely continue to litigate immigration ordinance cases around the country in 2013.

In August 2012, ten ICE officials, later joined by the state of Mississippi, filed a lawsuit alleging that DACA is unconstitutional and forces ICE officials to violate federal law.  Kobach is the attorney for the case, and another anti-immigrant organization, NumbersUSA, is funding the lawsuit. Legal battles over DACA are likely to continue.

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