The Arizona immigration bill is an exemplar of the type of immigration policies that focus on the immigrant. There is not much novel about the Arizona law except that the immigrant, or anyone suspected of being one, is sought out a bit more aggressively.
Immigration Laws following the last major Immigration overhaul, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 have been characterized by pushing against the immigrant rather than addressing the cause of immigration, employers in the U.S. Recently, however, it seems that the Obama administration is reforming immigration by going after those that call the shots, the employers. The administration has begun to systematically implement the rules that have been on the books for decades, but which have been overlooked in preference for the strategy of going after the player.
At the very beginning of George W. Bush's presidency it seemed as if an immigration overhaul agreement were going to materialize. In the wake of 9/11 all prospects of immigration legislation fell through. Instead the following years of the Bush presidency saw an immigration policy that focused on high drama immigration raids. The face of immigration became the black wind-breaker with yellow letters spelling out ICE. ICE agents crisscrossed the nation storming factories and farms alike. News cameras would capture the faces of hundreds of immigrants being handcuffed and stuffed into vans -the first leg of their journey to non-immigrant status.
In addition to raids, the tactic of choice to address illegal immigration has been beefing up the Border Patrol. In the mid 1990s Operation Gatekeeper and Operation Hold the Line were implemented in California and Texas, respectively. These operations saw millions of additional dollars in funding for increased Border Patrol personnel and detection technology. The presence of the Border Patrol on the border became ubiquitous. However, rates of illegal border crossings remained steady and in some instances increased. Border crossers simply adjusted tactics -- turning toward the Arizona border and risking more in terms of money and livelihood to get to those jobs that were waiting for them.
The immigration policies of the last two decades have had an almost exclusive focus on the immigrant. To address the most tangible manifestation of unsound immigration policies administrations have poured money into getting uniformed boots on the street -- Border Patrol, ICE, and now all law enforcement in Arizona, to nab the immigrant. These policies are flashy and make for good TV and newspaper shots, but its like treating the flu with cough drops rather than with an antibiotic.
True to his characterization of "no drama Obama", the President has recently shifted gears and begun to address the issue of illegal immigration by not going after immigrants, but those that employ them. What has begun to take place is an elite striking force of a handful of auditors visiting farms and factories to review the records of employees on staff. If their documents are not in order, the employer is obligated to fire those employees and pay substantial fines. The dozens of tough looking ICE agents have been substituted for a few auditors with laptops in hand.
The strategy of addressing the cause of immigration is doubly beneficial. First, the pull factor of immigration -- U.S. jobs -- is neutralized. Second, law enforcement ranging from ICE agents to local Arizona highway troopers can channel their limited funds to more serious crime matters.