No Repeal in Arizona, No World Cup

06/03/2010 08:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Recently, eleven nations, including the United States, delivered their final plans to host the 2018/2022 edition of the world's most watched sporting event -- soccer's World Cup -- to officials of the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) in Zurich, Switzerland. Glendale, Arizona is one of the US' proposed host cities. The US should be denied the privilege of the global extravaganza unless Arizona repeals its unconstitutional and ugly statute criminalizing the absence of federal immigration papers and targeting racial or ethnic minorities who "look" foreign.

What's galling about Arizona's prominent placement in the US bid is that soccer's popularity is at its zenith in the Spanish-speaking world. Should FIFA select Glendale as one of the US World Cup host cities, tens of thousands of players and fans from south of the border could be expected to flood into Arizona to fill the stands, the hotels, and coffers of local businesspeople. But instead of a United States welcome mat, many could be detained or prosecuted by Arizona for appearing to be an undocumented alien.

FIFA can and should boycott Arizona until it learns its constitutional lessons. The US Constitution entrusts the federal government with authority over immigration, naturalization and deportation matters. As a nation, we sink or swim together. "No state," said the court in one ruling, "can add to or take from" the force and effect of national law.

Yet with the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act," Arizona has its very own immigration legislation, punishing aliens for failing to possess documentation stipulated by federal law. Arizona authorities unschooled in immigration matters and indifferent to foreign ramifications will decide who is properly documented and who is not for purposes of detention or imprisonment.

Arizona seems to forget nothing and learn nothing. It was once the nation's sole holdout on ratifying a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his exhortation to judge based on character in lieu of skin color. The State was brought to its senses by economic boycotts, including the loss of several major sporting events. Over a five-year period, Arizona lost more than 100 conventions--including the 1993 Super Bowl--and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue before changing course. Today, Americans should profit by that example, and demand that FIFA withhold the World Cup from the US until Arizona repeals its mean-spirited and gratuitous anti-immigrant statute. Arizona has never been handcuffed in enforcing its laws against homicide, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, money laundering, etc. against citizens and non-citizens alike.

Glendale is one of the 18 cities included in the US bid, competing with Australia, England, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Qatar and two joint bids from Belgium and the Netherlands, and Spain and Portugal. But its bid will be severely handicapped if the Arizona statute remains undisturbed or is copycatted by sister state jurisdictions. Just ask the leaders of Chicago's failed bid to host the 2016 Olympics. Among the toughest questions posed to their bid team during their final presentation in Copenhagen concerned with the welcome foreigners would receive when they arrived in this country to attend the Games.

FIFA will witness that welcome firsthand when it makes its final evaluation of the US bid this fall. An angry fight over suspicious-looking foreigners, their papers, and police powers portends.

A recent New York Times poll showed that 51% of Americans support the Arizona law, with another 9% urging even stiffer penalties. Five states considering similar laws-- Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri and Texas -- are home to other cities included in the World Cup bid.

FIFA's boycott of Arizona would be no trailblazing gambit. At present, the NBA's Phoenix Suns, the San Antonio Spurs, the NBA's Player Association, and the Major League Baseball Players Association have rebuked Arizona's xenophobia. Steve Kerr, the Suns' general manager, worried: "It rings up images of Nazi Germany."

International sport can be enlisted to create lasting social change. The 1980 Olympics in South Korea are widely credited with solidifying the country's nascent democratic institutions. And in its quest for the World Cup, the tiny state of Qatar -- the US' surprisingly robust competitor for a bid -- has extended an olive branch to Israel, welcoming its players and fans to the heart of the Arab world, an unprecedented gesture.

Sadly, Arizona hears no such call to change and justice in its bid for the World Cup, only the shrill cry of zealots and xenophobia. Soccer fans and FIFA must now demonstrate moral authority and economic resistance to their would-be hosts in Arizona and elsewhere until these states can live up to the World Cup mantra: "For the Game. For the World."

*Bruce Fein was associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan and is author of Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle over our Constitution and Democracy.

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