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Nebraska Gov. Predicts Arizona-Style Immigration Bills in Every State

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a longtime supporter of strict immigration enforcement, has made pushing for Arizona-style immigration legislation a central part of his re-election campaign. He argues copycat bills will spring up all over the country when state legislature return next year, telling The New York Times, “Next January I believe in every state in America there will be an Arizona-type law introduced.”

Heineman, like Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, has seen a huge upswing in popularity based on his support for keeping illegal immigrants out of the state. He was an underdog when he first ran for governor, and was even expected to lose in the primary this year, according to the Times. But he doubled down on anti-illegal immigration sentiment and is now favored to win a second term.

Anti-immigration policies can be a sound political move, given that most Americans support efforts like Arizona’s law to keep illegal immigrants out. Legislators in states including Colorado, Utah and Tennessee have visited Arizona to talk to lawmakers about creating similar legislation in their states, while conservatives in at least 22 states have stated support for bills in the next legislative session.

But such legislation has a high cost, particularly because the federal government has indicated it will act against states that attempt to preempt its powers to enforce immigration. Arizona faced considerable fallout from its immigration law, including multiple lawsuits, economic boycotts and a weakened tourism industry. Even if the laws in other states are not challenged by the government, there’s a price for upping immigration enforcement: Police staffs may need to be trained, jails may be more crowded and additional police may need to be hired.

The Democratic challenger in Nebraska, Mike Meister, told the Times that Heineman is “pandering to the lowest common denominator” with a proposed bill that is “obviously unconstitutional.” He made an economic argument against the bill, claiming it would likely spur a federal lawsuit. Democrats in other states have made similar arguments against copycat Arizona legislation.

The problem of copycat legislation could be eliminated if Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform. Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) specifically addressed the issue of state immigration enforcement in the reform bill they introduced last week, which they hope to take up during the lame duck session or use as a framework in the next Congress. Their bill clarifies that immigration enforcement is in the hands of federal authorities unless specifically granted to local law enforcement agencies under the 287 (g) program, which allows some police to be trained to enforce immigration.

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