Mehlman argued states have acted because in the absence of Congressional action, they are the ones paying for immigrants' education, emergency health care, and other services removed from the federal government's eye.
"You have this dichotomy here where the federal government is charged with responsibility of making and enforcing immigration laws; state and local governments wind up bearing the burdens of illegal immigration," he said.
But states are also getting entangled in expensive legal fees as these tough immigration laws get challenged in court. Farmers Branch, Texas, a town of about 26,000, spent more than $3 million defending a 2006 ordinance that fines landlords who rent to illegal aliens and allows local authorities to screen illegal aliens in police custody. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) assisted the town, as well as one in Pennsylvania in a similar battle.
Alabama passed a law like the Farmers Branch ordinance, which would potentially place a landlord in prison for up to 20 years if caught knowingly renting to undocumented immigrants. The Alabama law landed the state with a lawsuit from the ACLU.
Beyond costly lawsuits, though, there are other monetary risks to implementing a controversial immigration law modeled after Arizona's, Lacayo said.
Religious groups, civil rights activists and the Mexican government have all actively petitioned against South Carolina's new law, arguing the bill spends $1.3 million to create a statewide immigration police force, in addition to the legal costs to defend the lawsuit.
"We see a coalition of religious groups, business groups, that have really seen the impact of SB 1070's law on Arizona's economy and tourism and industry, and they're really saying, 'Well, we don't want that in our state,'" she said. "And also the fact that a lot of states are facing budget problems and these measures aren't free."