Anti-Immigrant Movement Dealt Three Major Blows In One Day

  • March 7, 2014

Earlier this week, two U.S. Supreme Court orders and a settlement agreement out of South Carolina dealt major blows to the anti-immigrant movement’s agenda.


On March 3, the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals by the cities of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and Farmers Branch, Texas, letting stand lower court rulings that had struck down both cities’ anti-immigrant ordinances.  Hazleton and Farmers Branch gained national notoriety when they passed ordinances barring undocumented immigrants from renting property in the towns. 

In both cases, lower courts struck down the ordinances as unconstitutional and preempted by federal law.  The Supreme Court’s orders denying the appeals requests end the legal battles, which have been ongoing since 2006, and secure a permanent victory for immigration and civil rights groups. 

On the same day as the Supreme Court’s orders, South Carolina officials settled a lawsuit with immigrant and civil rights groups over the state’s anti-immigrant laws.  In 2011 South Carolina passed a law similar to Arizona’s SB 1070 that, among other things, required local law enforcement to investigate people’s immigration status if they had reason to believe the person was undocumented. 

The provision, commonly known as “papers please,” effectively required local law enforcement officers to function as immigration enforcers.  In a letter submitted to the court signed jointly by the Attorney General and the Solicitor General, earlier this week South Carolina agreed that local law enforcement would not hold people purely to determine immigration status.  The letter further conceded that the law does not permit state and local officials to arrest or hold anyone believed to be undocumented “for any purpose, even to transfer the individual to federal custody.”

The Supreme Court orders and South Carolina settlement are major defeats for the anti-immigrant movement and its “attrition through enforcement” agenda. In the early to mid-2000s, the movement crafted this agenda, also known as “self-deportation.”

The goal was to make life so difficult for immigrants that they would “self-deport” from the city or state and move to another, or ultimately back to their country of origin.  Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and a lawyer with the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legal arm of the extreme anti-immigrant organization Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), is the mastermind behind attrition through enforcement and one of the leaders promoting the agenda today. Kobach helped to draft and defend the ordinances in Farmers Branch, Hazelton, and many other cities as well as Arizona’s SB 1070 law.

The Supreme Court orders and South Carolina settlement are part of a wider trend of defeat for the anti-immigrant movement.   Since the beginning of 2013 there has been a major decline in anti-immigrant legislation introduced at the state level nationwide. Pro-immigrant legislation is on the rise and the anti-immigrant movement is on the defense, attempting to stop this influx of legislation instead of continuing to draft “attrition through enforcement” bills. These latest developments send a clear message to the anti-immigrant movement and state and local legislators that anti-immigrant legislation not only divides communities but it does not hold up in court.