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Afton Branche Headshot

The Real Problem With Arizona's Immigration Law? We've Heard It Before

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Federal officials in recent weeks have publicly opposed SB1070, Arizona's now-infamous immigration law. Department of Homeland Security Secretary (and former Arizona governor) Janet Napolitano said the law could invite racial profiling and hurt local law enforcement. John Morton, head of DHS' Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said: "I don't think the Arizona law, or laws like it, are the solution."

And President Obama himself called the legislation "misguided," saying that it threatens to "undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe."

But their words are at odds with the actions of our federal immigration agency. Anyone who has been following the immigration enforcement debate should recognize that these are the same objections that advocates have been raising for months against ICE and the work of its local immigration enforcement partnership programs. The 287(g) program, Criminal Alien Program and other initiatives have come under much-needed scrutiny for their vulnerability to racial profiling and negative impact on police-community relations.

A study by the Warren Institute at UC Berkeley finds compelling evidence of racial profiling in the implementation of the Criminal Alien Program in Irving, Texas. The authors find that CAP encourages local officers to arrest Latinos for petty offenses in an effort to "remove as many undocumented immigrants as possible." Arizona's immigration law is designed to do the very same thing, and in so doing will disproportionately impact Latino residents. A leaked e-mail by the architect of SB1070 reveals that the law empowers local police to question the legal status of residents who may violate property or housing codes, citing "cars on blocks in the yard" or "too many occupants of a rental accommodation" as examples. This e-mail essentially directs Arizona's police to use the law as a tool to target and deport undocumented Latino residents.

What about Obama's point? Arizona's immigration law certainly risks destroying the relationships between local police and immigrants in their communities, undermining the crime reporting that is essential to keeping everyone safe. This is a major reason that police chiefs in Arizona and elsewhere oppose SB1070. But this, too, is at the center of law enforcement agents' concerns over 287(g) and other ICE partnership programs; when police act as immigration agents, immigrants who are victims or witnesses of crimes are less likely to contact police for fear of deportation.

Federal officials are willing to recognize and speak out about the dangers of Arizona's immigration law, but at the same time, they remain silent on the federal programs that result in similarly negative outcomes. And these programs are central to the Obama Administration's immigration enforcement strategy; ICE federal-local partnerships have rapidly increased in the last year, and will continue to do so. Our leaders seem to agree that Arizona's immigration law is not the solution to the varied challenges associated with undocumented immigration, but it's troubling that they won't admit that neither is the expansion of federal-local immigration enforcement.