The Arizona law and similar laws of other states claim immigration enforcement powers that rightfully belong only to the federal government.
This is the constitutional argument that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue is a basic legal-tug-of-war, a jurisdictional fight between the federal government and the states.
Arizona and other states that have written their own immigration laws (among them, Alabama, South Carolina, Indiana and Utah) argue that the federal government isn’t doing its job of securing borders and stopping illegal immigration, so someone else has to.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the 5-3 majority opinion released on June 25, says that the states’ frustration isn’t justification to take immigration enforcement from Washington. He said even if the system is broken, “the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”
The nation can’t function if every state writes its own version of what it thinks an immigration law should be.
President Obama has said the last thing the country needs is a patchwork of 50 different laws. Obama has argued that the country needs comprehensive immigration reform, not a legal hodgepodge, but Congress has been unwilling to move. County and municipal governments are getting into the act, too.
Something as fundamentally important to the country as immigration must be governed by a single set of laws, and they must come from Washington. An immigrant who drives across the Indiana-Ohio border shouldn’t have to wonder what rules are changing.
The Arizona law will inevitably lead to racial and ethnic profiling because the police have too much latitude to stop and question people about their immigration status.
The issue here is the nebulous nature of the term “reasonable suspicion.” Even accomplished legal experts struggle to define precisely what it means.
The Arizona law allows police to detain and investigate the immigration status of people who present a “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country illegally. But critics of the law say police will almost certainly determine reasonable suspicion by appearance, which means Hispanics, Latinos and blacks will get hassled and white non-Hispanics will not.
Critics say it is un-American to create a “show me your papers” society where officers target people based on the way they look. The Supreme Court upheld this provision of the Arizona law for now, largely because the justices have no case, evidence or track record before them to suggest that police have misused the “reasonable suspicion” provision.
But Justice Kennedy hinted in his opinion that the issue isn’t going away and the courts are likely to get it again after the law has been in effect and used in the real world for a while.
Local and state police aren’t trained to determine immigration status in the field and will detain the wrong people.
Alabama knows something about this kind of embarrassment. In 2011, two prominent auto executives working legally at major assembly plants in the state -- one from Germany, the other from Japan -- were pulled over, arrested and detained by local police.
The two executives’ companies are responsible for putting thousands of Alabamians to work. Oooops!
Arizona-style laws that crack down on illegal immigrants hurt legal immigrants, too, and do damage to the state economy.
Some prominent Republicans and their advisers, including attorney Kris Kobach, support state immigration laws because they create a hostile environment that drives illegal immigrants elsewhere.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney endorsed this idea of forced “self-deportation” during the GOP debates. But immigrants that are here legally have become ancillary casualties of the oppressive laws.
Alabama professor Dr. Samuel Addy studied his state’s law and found that it was a job killer that depressed demand and hurt the agriculture industry. Georgia farmers had to watch crops rot in the fields after the state law went into effect because migrant workers who feared deportation went elsewhere.
Harsh state laws damage the cooperation between police and immigrant communities.
The laws drive many immigrants, both legal and illegal, underground and make them reluctant to work with police to solve and prevent crimes. A 2012 study found that tough immigration laws actually make neighborhoods less safe.