The US immigration battle

2012-06-26 09:32

New York - The long-running saga of Arizona’s immigration policy kind of came to an end on Monday when the United States Supreme Court mostly upheld one of four provisions of the state’s highly contentious laws on immigration (known as Senate Bill 1070 (SB 1070), while it struck three down.
The provision upheld section 2(b), which was actually the part that has received the most attention. You might know it as the “papers please” aspect: Granting police powers to determine the immigration status of anyone held on another charge.

For example, if you are pulled over for a broken tail light, the policeman could detain you until he is certain you are an American citizen, or have permission to be in the US.

Naturally, this makes people whose skin is browner more susceptible to the application of these laws, and has raised very reasonable fears of racial profiling.

The ruling did point out that although section 2(b) contains language ruling out racial profiling, abuse of this legislation could result in the Supreme Court taking another look at it.
The parts struck down by the court include criminalising failure to carry your immigration documents, criminalising illegal immigrants who are employed and allowing the police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants willy-nilly.

Consistent criticism

And these were struck down not on the basis of racism or possible racial profiling, but on arguments that it is the federal government’s responsibility to deal with immigration, not the states’. In fact, in April Obama said during a television interview, “We can't have 50 different immigration laws around the country.”
This is the most significant day so far during a long-running saga between Arizona and the federal government.

Republicans, particularly those who support Arizona’s SB 1070 bill, have consistently criticised the Obama administration for failing on promises to deliver comprehensive immigration reform, a hot political topic, even when he enjoyed a majority in the country’s legislatures during his first two years in office.

Obama and his pals have argued that this is nonsense, and that Republicans twice invoked a political tool called the filibuster – which requires 60 out of 100 Senate votes (Democrats held 59 seats), rather than just the usual majority – to can immigration legislation.
The argument is mostly, but not quite, true.

The Dream Act, which is the piece of legislation Team Obama/Democrats refer to in the previous paragraph, is aimed more to deal with illegal immigrants who are already in the US. This is quite patently not aimed at stopping people crossing the US borders illegally.

More deportations since the 1950s

The Pew Hispanic Centre reported in April that net migration of immigrants from Mexico into the US was zero since 2004 (ie as many people were leaving (of their own will or via deportation) as arriving) – some senior politicians take this as an indication that focus should be on the 11-million to 12-million illegal immigrants that are already in the US.

This is obviously nonsense, as a net migration of zero doesn’t mean people aren’t still arriving in the US without authorisation.

The current administration’s modus operandi is to enforce current ineffectual laws, meaning a fat load of deportations. In fact, according to the New York Times, under Obama more immigrants have been deported than under any president since the 1950s.
Arizona isn’t alone in its quest to deal with an immigration problem without waiting for the federal government to get moving on immigration policy.

Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana and Utah have also enacted similar legislation which will most likely see their days in court based on Monday’s Supreme Court decisions.
The most sensible way to stop this would be for congress to deal with immigration properly. While the states are acting outside their authority, the federal government needs to make sure the states have no reason to do so.