Is Second Place as Good as First Place?

The battle over Arizona’s controversial new immigration laws has caused quite a stir. I’m in Chicago which is about 1,752 miles from Phoenix and I’ve felt the anger first-hand, from protesters who have marched in the Windy City.

Now comes news that Virginia police officers can question stopped motorists about their immigration status. According to a CNN report, the state’s attorney general said that Virginia law enforcement officers, may, like Arizona police officers, inquire into the immigration status of persons stopped or arrested.

I’m fascinated to see how this will play out. There’s no question that states with sinking revenues are frustrated with anything they see as unnecessary financial burdens. So removing the illegal immigrants is helpful because, for US tax paying citizens, it creates the perception that law breakers who are using up resources during a recession are being brought to justice. At the same time, some businesses have exploited these illegal workers for their own profit. For purposes of staying out of the argument, I’m going to focus on the public relations issues of when and which states decide to take a position on the matter.

As a rule, first always wins out. Arizona got a tremendous amount of national and international news coverage. And “as a rule,” whoever is second gets the leftovers when it comes to significant media attention. I would imagine the rule gets broken fast when you think of a crime spree or copycat criminal acts.

However, regardless of what happens with these immigration news stories, Arizona’s laws are likely to always be a reference point. Is that good? Depends. If future states that generate media attention follow Arizona’s legal guidelines, that’s good because it proves that Arizona has a legitimate point. And for the states that follow, regardless of their position on checking the immigration status when someone runs a stop sign, if they’re smart, they can adjust their public relations’ message to possibly play better than Arizona’s.

What tickles me will be to see how the media plays “cat and mouse” with the new states that will enact controversial police check policies with immigration status. Will they simply play off of “the states verses (fill in the blank with “Federal Government,” “immigration rights activists”) or will they find ways to communicate the comparisons and contrasts to reveal copycat illegal immigration busters?