By now you've heard of Arizona's recently passed law, set to take effect in a little over a week, that will give local law enforcement officers in the state the power to enforce federal immigration law. By authorizing police to look into a suspect's immigration status as well as his or her compliance with Arizona local law, SB 1070 represents an escalation in the growing tension over the long term legal framework for immigration into the United States.
It's estimated that over a million people living in the United States illegally have deported themselves, gone back to their home countries as the US economy has worsened. That still leaves some 11 million people out of status, and they represent a challenge to the country that can not be wished away.
Like other border states Arizona bears the brunt of illegal crossings and is home to a large number of illegal residents. The state legislature's majority in support of SB 1070 explains its vote by pointing out that the state must act in the face of continuing inaction by the federal government in securing the border, deporting illegal residents, and passing comprehensive immigration reform.
A majority of Americans support Arizona's action, as represented in public opinion research from a wide range of polling firms and a variety of questions about the law in samples. Immigrant rights organizations point out that a majority of Americans say they support comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship too, so you shouldn't read too much into the result. You should also keep in mind that lawmakers in another dozen state capitals are drafting new laws that mirror 1070, and they aren't bothering to wait and see if the US Supreme Court upholds the version passed in Arizona.
I put it to my panel of anti-1070 activists that most Americans seem to support the law, millions would like to see a similar law in their own state, and that there's very little appetite for an open door to millions of new Americans at a time when the economy can't produce enough jobs month after month that will break even with the number of new entrants to the workforce coming on stream constantly. Middle aged workers in the big tail end of the baby boom now have adult children who can't find jobs, can't earn enough to pay their own expenses, and aren't finding jobs that require the knowledge very expensively acquired in college.
The quartet... smart, knowledgeable, veterans of the immigration wars were simple and straightforward in their replies:
No, Arizona is not within its rights to attempt to push back against illegal immigration with local enforcement of federal law.
Yes, many other states may be contemplating an SB 1070-style law but that doesn't make it any more constitutional.
No, lightly trained officers in counties across Arizona won't be able to police their communities and enforce the new law without resorting to racial profiling.
Yes, Arizona will be terribly hurt by ongoing efforts to boycott the state before the law even takes effect. Major League Baseball, a hugely successful business with a large foreign-born share of its workforce should not appear in Arizona to play the All-Star game in Phoenix in 2011, and many players have already spoken out against the law and expressed their own misgivings about playing in the home of the National League's Diamondbacks.
I have been surprised by the speed with which supporters of the law, mostly Republicans, have used the idea of violent crime to explain their support of the law. Phoenix is a safer-than-average city in a safer-than-average state, yet lawmakers have returned again and again to the idea of growing danger from immigrant crime to justify the move toward local immigration enforcement. Wherever you come down on the debate over SB 1070, it would seem to be a risky step to go on TV news and talk radio day after day to play up how dangerous immigrants are making the state. The criminal motif is part of an effort to deny that there's any bias against immigrants in general or Latinos in particular in passing the new statute. The state is about a third Latino, and politicians coveting the votes of this big population have hardly been subtle in their association of Latinos with criminality.
One thing those for and against 1070 seem to agree on is the lack of action from the Obama administration in following through on the campaign season promises to make comprehensive immigration reform a top priority. But from some corners, that critique reeks of disingenuousness, as the very same people who support 1070 also opposed immigration reform. We are going to have to get a better read on what's needed and what can pass. Try as I might, I can't get any side in this debate to talk about the 11 million already here illegally and the people who would like to come in the future as separate parts of the debate that need separate solutions. Both sides, understandably, I guess, want to simplify, flatten, and decomplicate what is a devilishly knotty public policy challenge.
For 1070 opponents who think anti-immigrant forces will come around if they just explain the issue properly, forget it. If you think you can get immigration reform passed with the mood this country is in and the unemployment rate high and new job creation anemic, thing again. And for those of you who support 1070 and think we can either force 11 million people to go home by making it unpleasant or simply tell them to get on the back of "the line," dream on... millions of the people who live here illegally are parts of blended families, and have citizen and legal resident wives, husbands, and children... they aren't wild about your description of people they know well as hard-working providers as criminals, and they aren't heading home.
The new Arizona law has re-focused American attention on what had been for a time a dormant debate. Whatever federal appellate courts decide this new version of the immigration debate Arizona-style skirmishes will continue. And even if the sky doesn't fall and there aren't rampant civil rights violations once the law takes effect at the end of the month, the activists will be taking it out on Arizona... these issues really run on two different tracks. It's going to be a long time before all this is settled.
Log-in and let me know what you think about the law, the state of play in the debate over immigration, and whether you think boycotting the state will have any effect on the future of 1070 in Arizona, and the other states toying with passing a similar law. Thanks.