Arizona is at ground zero of our broken immigration system. As the state receiving the largest number of immigrants across our border, it's no wonder that Arizonans are frustrated by the vacuum of leadership coming from the Federal government. The courts have decided it's a Federal problem, but Congress has yet to deliver a comprehensive immigration solution. People are frustrated and want action.
Action feels good. We see a problem and we want to fix it. We write and pass laws that seem like they'll do the trick: punish people who break our laws; deport people who don't belong here. Except sometimes what looks good and feels good, isn't always good. We end up with reactionary laws that waste precious resources and do nothing to address the source of the problem.
The so-called "Safe Neighborhoods" legislation is such a bill. It's the kind of misguided legislation that gets passed every election year. Most legislators -- including Senator John McCain -- know the bill won't solve a thing. They know it will cost our state resources we don't have. They know it could wreak havoc in our communities and lead to the kind of racial profiling our country left behind years ago. But they vote for these kinds of bills because they think it will make people feel better.
It won't. Instead, this bill will cause a whole new host of problems, particularly for Arizona's law enforcement officials. And it will create an environment of panic and fear throughout the entire Latino community.
If signed into law, the bill would shift the burden of enforcing immigration laws onto the shoulders of cash-strapped local police departments who cannot afford unfunded enforcement-only mandates. It would exacerbate community tensions and undermine community policing and public safety by making immigrants afraid to cooperate in police investigations.
Most tragic of all, the state would be forced to waste millions to defend itself against the civil rights lawsuits that will rightfully follow. Similar ill-advised anti-immigrant laws in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Texas have been struck down by the courts at great expense to taxpayers. With a record budget deficit, does Arizona really need to spend another dime on enforcement strategies that will do nothing to solve our immigration crisis?
We need comprehensive immigration reform that will eliminate the underground economy by getting undocumented immigrants into the system, paying fines, back taxes, learning English, and getting on local, state and federal tax rolls. We need reform that will truly end illegal immigration and hold bad-actor employers responsible for depressing wages and violating the right to a safe worksite for all workers.
However, instead of finding practical solutions to move us forward, Arizona's attention is focused on political drama. Will Governor Brewer play the same old game of demonizing immigrants to score cheap political points? Will she waste taxpayer funds and turn Arizona into ground zero for anti-immigrant hate? Or will she take a higher road that puts smart policy and the needs of all Arizonans ahead of petty politics?
Scott Washburn is State Director of SEIU Arizona. The union represents public service employees in Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, Pima County and the State of Arizona.