Sun Sets on Arizona Immigration Bill

Arizona Governor Janey Napolitano vetoed HB 2807 today. The bill, which cleared the Arizona’s House unanimously, would have required local law enforcement departments to participate with federal officials in enforcement of immigration laws. To be specific, the law would not have required local law enforcement officers to aid in the enforcement of all elements of federal immigration statutes, just the ones pertaining to the policing of people who are suspected of being “illegal.”

You see, the federal government recently began pursuing its own “crackdown” on “illegal immigration” by raiding workplaces from Maine to California to arrest undocumented workers by the bus loads. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, hasn’t raided any country clubs to arrest the owners of these corporations (or their middle managers) for systematically and habitually hiring “illegals,” but if your brown and de-feathering a chicken for a living, chances are they’ve checked you out.

Arizona’s legislation required local law enforcement to “fully support” ICE as it performs its duties within the state, defining that participation as “sending, receiving or maintaining information relating to the immigration status of any individual.” In other words, it required local law enforcement officials to check people’s legal status and keep records of that status. The three areas requiring this state policy were for the “determination of eligibility for any federal, state or local public benefit”; the “verification of any claim of legal domicile if legal domicile is required by law or contract”; and the “confirmation of the identity of any person who is detained” by officers. Finally, the bill required local law enforcement officers be trained by federal officials, that local law enforcement offices establish “operational relationships” with ICE, and for ICE agents to be “embedded” with LEO.

You can access the full-text of the law here.

Governor Janet Napolitano vetoed the legislation, arguing it represented an “unfunded mandate.” Since the statute required training and promised state funds for that training if federal funds were not sufficient (which they have chronically not been), the bill required funding for which it did not provide. You can download her veto letter here.

Let me suggest, this event is a microcosm of the current status of the so-called “immigration debate.”

First, the legislation did nothing to really address the root causes of illegal immigration. While these are difficult to succinctly state, let’s say on one level, it did not reduce the economic lure of border crossing, namely, organized labor recruitment and maintenance strategies devised and implemented by employers all over the country. On another level, it did nothing to undo the sustained and oppressive presence of U.S.-based corporations in Mexico. This presence has meant the consolidation of profit in the hands of foreign entities and a small Mexican elite, as well as the literal displacement of hundreds of thousands from both their historic lands and strategies of economic survival. Couple this with the further entanglement of Mexico into the U.S./global sphere of “free trade” and you get the astronomical rise in inflation of the prices of staple crops like corn. (Now I don’t mean to suggest a state like Arizona can do much about these systemic causes, but that is, as they say, the point.)

Second, the law made immigration control into a “local” issue. While this stance has a profound amount of political cache (“If the federal government isn’t going to protect our borders, we have to!”) it has little legal reason to it. Immigration is a federal issue. Only the federal government can determine the membership of a person into the “national body” because national and international borders are their legal terrain. The last time someone tried to argue State supremacy in determining one’s legal status the Supreme Court disagreed. (It was called the Dred Scott decision; check it out.) The hundreds of examples of local ordinances and State laws that have been passed in the past two years all meet the same fate when challenged in the courts.

In this case, there is nothing in federal law that forbids local officials from helping federal officials with their duties. Functionally, however, the distinction is more important. If every local law enforcement officer did nothing other than police the State for “illegals” the “problem” would still not be fixed.

Third, the law continues to criminalize the immigrant. (Some might say, “But they are criminals.” The question is, why? How did they become “illegal” when other immigrants–say, the Irish–were not. Their criminality is not determined by their act but by the way we choose to categorize that act.) The law sought to help ICE with its raids on suspected undocumented workers and residents. It did nothing, and provided nothing, for the enforcement of employer restrictions. Furthermore, how does an “illegal” Mexican look different than a “legal” one? Inherently, these kinds of measure encourage (almost require) LEO to conduct their business according to racial profiling assumptions.

And, finally, the focus and concentration of time and energy on these kinds of symbolic and highly problematic measures is utilized by politicians to secure and maintain their own positions of power. People are feeling the crunch of this recession. They instinctively distrust the federal government. Legislators support measure like these (often completely understanding the limits of such pieces of legislation) to prey off of people’s uneasiness and struggle.  Given opportunities to stand up a provide their constituencies with frank, honest, and complex analysis of the issue, they abdicate their opportunity or, worse, get swept up in the hype themselves.  (NOTE: the State House voted unanimously for the measure, including Hispanic representatives; and, Napolitano framed her veto with a soft statement on “unfunded mandates.”)

Immigration is a more valuable political and economic issue when nothing substantive is done about it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s