Lawmakers in at least nine states are using Arizona’s immigration law as a test case to craft similar legislation, ratcheting up the pressure on the federal government to act before states enact a patchwork of laws that undercut federal authority.
Arizona’s S1070 opened a door that national anti-illegal immigration advocates had been pushing against for years. Groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform and its legal wing, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, have sought for years to create model legislation on illegal immigration that would withstand legal challenges and create a blueprint for states and cities that wanted to follow suit.
When Arizona passed a law that handed local police unprecedented authority to investigate and arrest suspected illegal immigrants, the state ignited a firestorm in a midterm election year. And for Kris Kobach, the former Bush administration lawyer who helped draft the legislation, the crackdown in Arizona is just the beginning.
Many proponents of Arizona's harsh new immigration law cite rampant crime and violence at the border as the impetus behind the push to turn police into immigration agents and undocumented workers into criminals.
But immigrants are less likely than native-born residents to commit crimes, and presence in the US without papers is a civil, not a criminal offense. As the Immigration Policy Center points out, Arizona's crime rates have been steadily falling in recent years despite increased flows of undocumented immigration. It is unclear how directing police officers, under threat of lawsuit, to target these residents will make Arizona safer. In fact, law enforcement officials from across the country warn that SB 1070 may have the opposite effect, and compromise public safety by diverting scarce police resources away from targeting criminals, regardless of citizenship status.
The recent tragic death of Arizona rancher Rob Krentz made national headlines and brings new attention to the problem of border security. The killing of the third-generation rancher by suspected members of a Mexican drug cartel has become a flashpoint in the immigration debate as residents of border states and politicians cite the episode as further proof that the U.S. must do more to secure the violent U.S.- Mexico border. The murder of Krentz comes at a time when well-armed cartel factions have lately battled each other and federal authorities in several Mexican border cities, resulting in thousands of brutal killings, kidnappings and gun battles. The increased violence has brought renewed cries by border state residents for help from the government in securing the U.S. border.
Here we go again. It seems like an eternity since immigration reform was part of the national dialogue: Back in 2006-2007, George W. Bush was president, and Senator Ted Kennedy was leading the push for a bipartisan immigration reform package in the Senate with the collaboration of Senator John McCain of Arizona. Their proposal ultimately failed, and the 2008 presidential campaign halted all forward movement to reform our outdated immigration system.
Arizona's controversial new immigration law reflects a sharp political response to long-simmering conflict over immigration policy in a nation that takes pride in its history as a society built with the help of people from many lands.
Wharton faculty say the timing of the legislation is in part a reaction to stress brought on by the economic downturn, even as declining demand for labor has slowed immigration into the United States. While the statute has drawn widespread attention, faculty contend that it is unlikely to spur major change in broader immigration policy, at least in the near term. "It seems odd to me that this issue came up in Arizona now, given that the economy is so flat," says Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli, who suggests that Arizona politicians are looking for a "scapegoat" by "saying there are no jobs because of illegal workers. It's easy to blame immigrants."
Arizona’s law is—to date—the most extreme and has gone the furthest, but many states and localities have been introducing and passing immigration-related bills for several years, says Michele Waslin, a senior policy analyst at the Immigration Policy Center.
“There is a lot of frustration around the country because Congress, the federal government, has not acted on immigration reform. Everyone knows there is a problem, and it isn’t getting any better,” she says.
The 287(g) program, a lightning rod for criticism, is slowly and quietly melting into an expanded version of Secure Communities, a different and more under-the-radar government program.
Advocates and experts have noticed the switch, as the line to sign up for 287(g), a program that deputizes local police officers to enforce immigration law, has slowed, and the support for Secure Communities, a program screening prisoners for immigration status, grows.
Once again U.S. immigration policies are in the national spotlight. Arizona Gov. Brewer signed legislation on April 23 to authorize the arrest of Arizona residents if a police officer has reasonable suspicion that the person is in the United States without immigration documents. Her decision to sign this legislation has catapulted comprehensive immigration reform from the end of a long list of important Congressional legislation to competing for first place with financial reform.
A new New York Times-CBS poll on immigration reports some surprising numbers: 51 percent of Americans support Arizona's controversial immigration law and 57 percent say immigration laws should be determined by the federal government and not by states. Those positions would seem on the surface to be mutually exclusive. But that's just the beginning of this poll's unusual results. Here's what pundits are concluding about immigration and Americans' unique attitudes.