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 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT