Latest anti-immigrant bill would hurt Maine families and economy

Given its demographic challenges, Maine’s future economic success will require a welcoming culture that encourages all families, regardless of background, to live, work and prosper in our state. Maine is an attractive place to make a family, which means that vision for our future is achievable.

Doing so, though, requires policymakers to reject laws that single out immigrants and people of color, which have a detrimental effect on families and communities who are targeted, often unfairly. These laws also are detrimental to states’ economies. Maine’s Legislature is considering one such bill — LD 1833, “An Act To Facilitate Compliance with Federal Immigration Law by State and Local Government Entities.” Elected officials in Augusta should oppose the legislation.

Multiple studies have shown that laws such as Arizona’s SB 1070 (aka the “show me your papers” law) are bad for business, bad for communities, and ultimately bad for all of us.

LD 1833 is framed as a way of punishing so-called “sanctuary cities” in Maine for offering respite to unauthorized immigrants – a flawed premise that belies the fact that there are no known examples of Maine communities choosing not to comply with federal immigration law. The bill’s effects, however, would be felt much more widely than those wrongly identified “sanctuary cities.”

We know that laws like LD 1833 have a chilling effect on populations beyond unauthorized immigrants. The US Government Accountability Office found that more than half the local agencies who participate in an information-sharing program with the Department of Homeland Security hear concerns about racial profiling from their communities.

Anti-immigrant legislation and its spillovers impact state economies in several ways – by tarnishing a state’s brand; by driving individuals out of the state; and by worsening conditions for those already living here.

Maine’s Economy Relies on Its Welcoming Reputation

Maine’s tourism sector relies on Maine’s brand and its reputation for being a welcoming place for visitors. Around 41 million people come to Maine every year, and they spend $6 billion while they’re here.

Arizona’s SB 1070 caused a severe hit to that state’s reputation, causing businesses and organizations to cancel $141 million in conference bookings alone in the year following the law’s enactment. Between 2015 and 2017, international visits to the United States fell by 4%, even as tourism increased globally, a slump some attribute to anti-immigrant and “America-First” rhetoric in Washington. This decline cost the US economy tens of billions in economic output, and 100,000 jobs.

With tourism such a central component of Maine’s economy, we can’t afford to tarnish our brand with a reputation for intolerance or prejudice.

Maine’s Dominant Tourism Sector Relies on Immigrant Workers

A 2011 Georgia law, HB 87, cost that state $1.3 billion by driving out, or keeping away, workers who were critical to the state’s agricultural sector. Like Georgia, Maine relies on migrant and seasonal workers to fill positions in agriculture and tourism. According to the Maine Department of Labor, in 2017, 140 Maine businesses relied on 3,000 seasonal workers from overseas to fill mostly tourism-related positions. Almost one in five paid farmworkers in Maine is a migrant worker. If the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Maine lawmakers has the same effect as Georgia’s HB 87, and causes a decline in the availability of such workers, Maine businesses will be scrambling to find people to pick fruit, wait tables, and staff summer camps.

More broadly, all Maine businesses are facing a workforce challenge. We need to encourage more people to live and work in Maine – an effort that will be made more difficult if people feel the state will greet them with suspicion because of the color of their skin or their family background.

Without our existing immigrant population, our demographic and workforce challenges would be far worse today. Immigrant households spend nearly $1 billion in Maine’s economy every year and contribute $360 million in state and local taxes. According to US Census data, immigrants and their families boosted Maine’s population by 15,500 over the past decade. But during that same period, the entire statewide population only grew by 10,000. So, without immigration, Maine’s small population growth would instead have been a population decline.

We Need All Mainers to Succeed

LD 1833 is fundamentally so damaging because of the effects it would have on individuals and families. The purpose of this bill – to have local police work more closely with federal immigration authorities – is problematic in and of itself. Studies of similar projects in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia all found negative impacts on police-community relations. In some cases, the legislation made legal residents and people of color more reluctant to report crimes.

The impact of legislation like LD 1833 goes beyond law enforcement agencies and engenders a more pervasive fear of government and authority. A study of students, parents, and staff at Arizona public schools after the passage of SB 1070 found that the bill had caused some families to flee the state. Children who stayed in Arizona experienced higher levels of stress and anxiety, as well as worse academic outcomes. Some children dropped out of the public school system entirely.

Another study of the effects of SB 1070 found that it reduced the likelihood of Mexican-American women to use health care services to which they were entitled.

When Mainers feel unsafe or unfairly treated by government and law enforcement, they are less likely to use government services. That means children of immigrants and people of color will go unschooled, crimes will go unreported, and individuals will get sicker. This all a negative impact on all of us, with higher costs associated with increased crimes rates, more poverty and unemployment and higher costs to treat the sick and feed the hungry.

LD 1833 threatens Maine’s economic vitality in many ways, all for the sake of a policy based on a flawed premise of rampant unauthorized immigration. The risks to people of color, immigrants and our collective well-being as Mainers are too high to allow legislation like this to be passed.