Skip to main content

A changing national mood on immigration?

By Tamar Jacoby, Special to CNN
updated 11:20 AM EDT, Tue June 26, 2012
People opposed to Arizona's SB 1070 rally for immigrant rights in April in Phoenix.
People opposed to Arizona's SB 1070 rally for immigrant rights in April in Phoenix.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tamar Jacoby: Many expected court to favor Arizona law
  • She says ruling fits in with emerging mood toward immigration in states, nationally
  • She says unlike in previous years, states are in no hurry on immigration crackdowns
  • Jacoby: With "Dreamers" move, Latinos gaining political power, is trend reversing?

Editor's note: Tamar Jacoby, a fellow at the New America Foundation, is president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a national federation of small-business owners in favor of immigration reform.

(CNN) -- The judicial equivalent of white smoke has risen: The Supreme Court has ruled in a split decision rejecting most of Arizona's controversial immigration policing law, SB 1070.

Many were expecting a tough ruling favoring the Arizona statute and opening the floodgates to states' rights. And so the majority opinion is surprising as it upholds the federal government's power in setting immigration policy, leaving less room than many anticipated for state immigration enforcement.

Decision and issues at a glance

The justices upheld the provision of most concern to immigrant rights advocates, requiring police to check the immigration status of people they stop for other reasons if the officers suspect that they are in the country illegally. But even that part of the opinion is tenuous, and it's far from certain what will happen next.

Tamar Jacoby
Tamar Jacoby

Maybe it's a coincidence, but the court's hesitance to open the door to more state immigration enforcement is consistent with a new mood emerging in the states and nationally.

Winners, losers in immigration policy debate?

The past six years saw a federalist revolution in immigration lawmaking, with states taking more power into their own hands every year. But the mood in most state houses was strikingly different this spring, with lawmakers much less focused on immigration and in much less of a hurry to crack down.

Read the immigration ruling (PDF)

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, state lawmakers considered far fewer bills mentioning immigration: Halfway through the legislative sessions, in March, the number was down by 44%. Only two or three states seriously considered far-reaching enforcement measures, and no state enacted a new law. (Alabama revised an existing law, mostly softening it.)

Most surprising, no state took advantage of the opening created by last year's Supreme Court immigration decision, the ruling that states may act to prevent and punish the hiring of unauthorized immigrants, requiring employers to enroll in the federal E-Verify worker identification program. Most observers expected that ruling too to encourage a host of imitators.

In fact, nothing happened; not a single state enacted a law mandating E-Verify for any new employers.

Opinion: An incomplete win for Obama?

Key parts of immigration law rejected
Toobin: Immigration ruling likely today
Ariz. Gov. Brewer: This is not the end

Developments in recent weeks suggest that the public's views, too, may be shifting. President Obama's surprise announcement that immigration authorities will not deport up to a million young people brought to the country illegally as children has met with an astonishing reaction: approval by voters and acquiescence, if not support, among Republicans. Neither Mitt Romney nor GOP leaders in Congress have denounced the order.

A poll by Bloomberg News found that nearly two-thirds of the public are in favor. And some courageous Republicans -- including influential former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour -- have endorsed the policy, if not the way it was issued, by partisan fiat. It's no secret what's behind this jockeying, by Democrats or Republicans: the outsized role the Latino vote is likely to play in November, determining the outcome in several swing states and perhaps the next president.

But as significant in the past week has been the broader public's easy acceptance of the Obama order, a new climate already creating new room to maneuver in Congress.

Supreme Court mostly rejects Arizona immigration law; gov says 'heart' remains

The fight over who should make immigration law, Washington or the states, is far from over. But today's ruling, seemingly consistent with a new mood taking hold nationwide, is a stunning reversal of recent trends.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tamar Jacoby.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
updated 2:32 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
updated 5:03 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
updated 5:25 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT