Immigration Forecast for 2012 – Is it a year for Reform?

As we return to work on this Jan 2, 2012, one can only wonder what will 2012 be like for Immigration. 2011 will be remembered as the year Alabama enacted HB56, the most unreasonable immigration law in U.S. history. The bill was passed to go into effect Sept. 1 before a series of legal challenges from civil rights organizations, churches and the federal government delayed implementation for weeks. A federal judge put portions of the law on hold to consider the challenge, while allowing some aspects of the law to move forward.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reported recently that in 2011, there were 1,607 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees introduced in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, significantly up from a little more than 1,400 in 2010. Bolstered by the relative success of SB 1070, even as parts of the law remain hung up in court, immigration restriction-minded legislators in many states banded together, working with the same legal teams to help them draft immigration crackdown bills.

Interestingly, in spite of the bill-filing fury, 11 percent fewer of these state immigration bills became in 2011 than in 2010. Among those that didn’t get anywhere were a series of bills intended to end birthright citizenship for the U.S.-born babies of undocumented immigrants, written with the aid of the same legal counsel behind SB 1070 and introduced in states like Arizona, Indiana and Iowa. Also voted down was an Arizona “omnibus” bill that would have denied public services to undocumented immigrants, similarly to California’s ill-fated Proposition 187 in 1994, and an Arizona bill requiring that hospitals check for patients’ immigration status.

Arizona’s SB1070 will be sure to dominate in 2012. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the Obama Administration’s constitutional challenge to Arizona’s immigration law. Should the Court strike down SB1070 it will reaffirm, in a loud and clear voice, that immigration policy is exclusively a federal matter, inextricably tied to the idea of the United States as a sovereign nation. However, should the Court uphold SB1070 other states will certainly follow Arizona’s and Alabama’s lead, resulting in a disparate patchwork of state immigration laws throughout America. How the Supreme Court rules on SB 1070 could either encourage or put the brakes on state immigration bills.

In fiscal year 2011, the Obama administration broke its own deportation record for the second straight year, deporting close to 400,000 people.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that news of another record-breaking year for removals was pretty much expected, with the continued expansion of federal immigration enforcement programs like Secure Communities and 287(g), both of which have fed the deportation pipeline in recent years with a steady flow of cases stemming from local law enforcement. So we expect more removals and enforcement in 2012.

The biggest question for 2012, will Congress overhaul America’s broken immigration system; or even pass the DREAM Act, which would help promising undocumented youth earn their way to lawful status. 2012 is an election year, and the reality is that the politicians in Washington will not touch an issue as explosive as immigration reform, or will they? Whatever will happen in immigration in 2012 will sure keep us all interested and we will keep you posted!