Arizona Immigration Law Ripples Across the Country
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Passed April 13, 2010, Arizona law SB 1070 created a firestorm of controversy across the nation. It is a federal law that, within 30 days of entering the country, a new resident must register with the U.S. government. SB 1070 made it a misdemeanor for non-citizen residents to be caught without their registration documents. This made it possible for local law enforcement to inquire suspects about their immigration status, where before, all immigration issues were handled and fell only under the jurisdiction of federal agencies like the U.S. Border Patrol. Arizona is a common entry point for Central and South American illegal immigrants and Arizona lawmakers and their constituents were fed up with what they perceived as apathy and inaction from the federal government.
Critics feel that law enforcement cannot inquire about someone's immigration status without racial profiling and some provisions of SB 1070 were blocked by a U.S. District Judge. Despite all the controversy, however, at least 15 states have drafted similar legislation. California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, and Virginia are all considering laws that would require police to check the status of anyone who they might think is in the country illegally. And bills in Mississippi and South Carolina, if signed into law, would allow police to check the immigration status of people they have stopped for other reasons. Clearly, SB 1070 seems like a good idea to a lot of lawmakers. The problem is, police need probable cause or reasonable suspicion to ask someone about their immigration status and how would the police determine probable cause? A revision to SB 1070, called SB 2162, attempted to remedy that situation by stating that no prosecution would go forward from a complaint based on race, color, or national origin. This law and the subsequent state bills that are modeled after it are flirting with the fine-line between anti-immigration and racism, and lawmakers know it.
The Utah Compact
A coalition in Utah, one of the union's most staunchly conservative states, has reacted to the Utah congress' attempt to model a bill after SB 1070 by releasing The Utah Compact, a statement that outlines the importance of tackling the illegal immigration but stresses that local law enforcement resources should be focused on local crime. In Oregon, the congresswoman who sponsored an SB 1070 copycat acknowledged that the bill wouldn't pass, but she just wanted to stimulate debate on the subject. However, whether or not any of these bills make it into state law, they might create enough noise to go as far as the Supreme Court, forcing a decision on the issue.
Passing laws won't necessarily solve the problem of illegal immigration. Illegal immigrants seem to enter the country regardless of almost anything the U.S. government does to stop them. And the U.S. government tries. Since taking office, Obama has increased funding and manpower to southern Border States and managed to set a record in deportations. Texas governor, Rick Perry, said about Arizona-style laws, "Until you secure the border-before the border is no longer a revolving door-you can't have a conversation, you can't debate this, you can't pass legislation that is going to have much impact at all." But the debate will continue at the borders and in state and federal government until, most likely, the economy improves for whatever reason. Historians have been able to detect patterns in sentiment towards immigrants and found that depressed economic conditions generally come with a backlash against immigrants. One obvious example is post-WWI Germany and the rise of unchecked anti-Semitism. Let's just hope that the American sentiment towards immigration doesn't even begin to approach that level.