01/24/2011

SPLC Report: Nativist Laws Cost Communities Millions, Inflame Racial Tension

Harsh anti-immigrant laws enacted in communities across the country – promoted by national nativist organizations that want to severely limit immigration – have burdened taxpayers with millions in legal expenses, inflamed racial tensions and devastated businesses, according to a report issued today by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The report – When Mr. Kobach Comes to Town: Nativist Laws & the Communities They Damage – examines the impact of these laws, which have been promoted and defended by former law professor and newly elected Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach also played a leading role in drafting Arizona's controversial anti-immigrant statute, S.B. 1070.

The SPLC report was released simultaneously with a report by the Center for American Progress, Unconstitutional and Costly: The High Price of Local Immigration Enforcement, which focuses more specifically on the monetary costs to the communities.

Millions of dollars have been spent by local governments to defend these laws in court, and almost every judicial decision so far has gone against them. One community, faced with skyrocketing legal costs, had to raise property taxes. Another was forced to cut personnel and special events and even outsource its library. Only one had even a small part of its ordinance upheld in the courts.

The four towns and one state examined in this report also saw a crisis in race relations as conflicts between Latino immigrants and mostly white natives escalated. Latinos reported being threatened, shot at, subjected to racial taunts and more. Angry protests and counter-protests have rocked one town after another. Pro-immigrant activists have been threatened with notes that promise to "shed blood" to "take back" communities. In some communities, business districts have largely collapsed.

"Kris Kobach is the Pied Piper of the anti-immigration movement," said Mark Potok, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project, which produced the new "report. "Towns and states that are frustrated by illegal immigration have responded to his siren song, but they find out soon enough that he will lead your community over a financial and social cliff. Almost every place that has adopted his laws has faced huge legal bills and an outbreak of ugly racial tensions."

For the better part of the past six years, Kobach has been chief legal counsel to the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The SPLC lists FAIR as a hate group because of its promotion of white nationalism and its longstanding ties to prominent white supremacists.

In addition to the Arizona statute, Kobach helped write and defend nativist ordinances in Hazleton, Pa.; Valley Park, Mo.; Farmers Branch, Texas; and Fremont, Neb.

The report found that Kobach's efforts left these communities with huge legal bills, unworkable laws and social turmoil.

  • The town of Hazleton has run up $2.8 million in legal costs to defend its ordinance. Merchants in the town's Latino business district reported drops in business of 20 to 50 percent.
  • Farmers Branch is reported to owe $3.7 million in legal fees – costs that have led the town to cut personnel funding and its special events budget. The town even decided to outsource its library.
  • Fremont raised its property taxes in anticipation of $750,000 in legal expenses. Rather than defend a provision of its law, Valley Park repealed a provision punishing landlords who rent to undocumented immigrants.
  • In addition, Arizona hired Kobach as a consultant to its defense counsel in a case against its law, which by October had cost the state more than $1 million. Boycotts of the state sparked by the law are believed to have cost Arizona $141 million in convention spending.


But the social cost of all may be that these ill-advised laws are distracting the country from the obvious need to undertake comprehensive immigration reform at a time when the system is clearly broken. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, interviewed for the report, put it like this: "The worst part is all the heat, light and hatred surrounding S.B. 1070  has left us deadlocked on the bigger, more important task in front of us – actually passing true comprehensive immigration reform. We're so busy talking about Kris Kobach's train wreck of a law, we have no time to treat the injured lying on both sides of the track."

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