As Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) mulls over whether she will sign or veto a bill, SB-1070, recently passed by the Arizona legislature that would set up some of the most draconian immigration laws in the country, other states are already “watching to see whether they should follow in the state’s footsteps or stand back.” Michael Hethmon, general counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) — which helped draft the language of SB-1070 — has stated that he has been “approached by lawmakers from four other states who have asked for advice on how they can do the same thing.” Hethmon boasts that “what’s happening in Arizona just didn’t pop out of nowhere. It’s the latest step in a fairly deliberate process.” Hethmon’s troubling remarks beg the question of who is behind an organization that is strategically working on developing costly and ineffective policies that empower states and localities to take immigration law into their own hands.
IRLI is the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Immigration Reform (FAIR), an anti-immigrant group that has most recently been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Immigration Reform Law Institute calls itself, “America’s only public interest law organization working exclusively to protect the legal rights, privileges, and property of U.S. citizens and their communities from injuries and damages caused by unlawful immigration.” However, the Center for New Community (CNC), has another take on what IRLI stands for. According to CNC, IRLI’s “primary purpose is to push legal causes that unfairly target immigrant communities.”
In a nutshell, the IRLI has been behind most, if not every, local legislative immigration crackdown over the past few years. IRLI has taken part in a class action suit against California educators for allowing immigrant students to attend school. They have been behind a series of initiatives to prohibit members of local communities from renting to undocumented immigrants and sued Secretary Michael Chertoff and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), despite his aggressive workplace raids. In California, the Immigration Reform Law Institute has also aligned itself with a state ballot initiative aimed at overturning the 14th Amendment citizenship requirements and ending pre-natal and non-emergency care and child welfare checks that benefit the U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants. IRLI lawyer Kris Kobach makes about $300 per hour to train Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s officers in immigration matters. Kobach is kept busy considering Arpaio is currently the subject of a racial profiling investigation by the Department of Justice and has 2,700 lawsuits sitting on his desk as a result of his immigration policing tactics. A recent documentary investigated the role IRLI played in an anti-immigrant ordinance proposed in Prince William County:
IRLI may identify itself as a “public interest law firm,” but its efforts come with a serious price tag. The National Employment Law Project has shown that “ill-conceived immigration ‘enforcement only’ approaches” carry “grave economic risks.”
In 2006, the State of Colorado passed a series of bills meant to deny public services to undocumented immigrants, create a new penalty for use of fraudulent documents, enroll all state departments in the federal Basic Pilot program, and require state police to enforce immigration laws. One year later, eighteen state departments had spent a total of $2.03 million on implementation of the new laws and identified zero undocumented immigrants. In Riverside, New Jersey, a town of 8,000 spent $82,000 in legal fees defending its restrictive immigration ordinance which penalized anyone who employed or rented to an undocumented immigrant. Currently, IRLI is helping Farmers Branch, a small town of 30,000 people in Texas, repeal a federal district judge decision which deemed the town’s rental ban ordinance unconstitutional. Since September 2006, the town has spent $3.2 million on the legal fight and may have to spend an additional $623,000 this year. Prince William County supervisors ultimately decided against moving forward with the police enforcement of the immigration law after they found that the price tag would be a minimum of $14 million for five years.
Though the Arizona law is poised to pass, IRLI stands to profit even more from the legislation once it becomes the law of the land. The ACLU has stated, in unequivocal terms, that SB-1070 is downright unconstitutional in that it exacerbates racial profiling and violates the constitution’s Supremacy Clause. If Arizona’s law really is the “leading edge” as Hethmon suggests, IRLI will continue to benefit from the exploitation of the nation’s broken immigration system and the insecurity and fears that come with it.