You can say one thing for Arizona’s controversial new immigration law. It separates its supporters and critics as easily as a hot knife through butter.
Arizona SB 1070 is headed for a showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. At issue are the four provisions that have been the exclusive privilege of the federal government (at least up until now):
(1) require police to verify the immigration status of anyone they stop if they suspect he or she is undocumented;
(2) make it a state crime for a non-citizen to be without registration papers;
(3) make it illegal for an undocumented immigrant to apply for a job; and
(4) authorize police to arrest anyone they believe has committed a deportable offense (Reuters).
Where to start.
First, notice the verb “require,” used in the first clause, differs from that of the fourth clause, “authorize.” Authorization, as used here, would simply give police officers the option of using a new legal tool if, in their judgment, it would be useful. A requirement, on the other hand, means that this particular action is mandatory. Police officers would have no choice but to adhere to the policy.
In this contested law the State of Arizona has decreed that police officers may not exercise their discretion when checking the status of a potentially undocumented individual. Forget reason, forget circumstances that might make such a requirement either inconvenient, disruptive, counterproductive or even dangerous. All of that is trumped by the state’s desire to populate its jails with illegal aliens.
Mandatory is not a word that should be tossed around lightly. If Arizona were to travel down this road, it would lead to an infinite number of possible detours all meeting at a singular destination: unintended consequences. Does anyone recall the mandatory expulsion of the kindergarten student who brought a candy gun to school?
In criminal law domestic violence is the sole statute that has a mandatory arrest requirement. Such a policy change was necessary because of the cultural, social and psychological issues that were unaddressed. Mandatory arrests were necessary, in most cases, to stop the cycle of violence. Even so, the mandate has not been helpful in every situation – it is simply better than the alternative.
There is, however, no critical safety issue propelling Arizona’s mandated immigration checks.
For all that, Arizona’s law is not such a bad idea. Because of its location, the state bears a much greater financial burden than those far from the Mexican border: Illegal immigrants and their children fill the schools; they pack emergency rooms; they obtain social services, rental subsidies and many other benefits normally reserved for American citizens. In a law and order state, as Arizona purports itself to be, this this financial drain – not to mention the crime perpetrated by illegal immigrants – would be especially frustrating.
It may not be a bad idea, but it is a bad law. International borders are the purview of the federal government – a fact which the U.S. Supreme Court is now considering.
The immigration law has also divided the nation so effectively that there may be no one left with a neutral view. While proponents of the law point to the financial burdens mentioned above, critics cite the social impact. Most illegal immigrants are not criminals. Many continue to toil at jobs few of us would be willing to perform, for compensation none of us would accept. And let’s not forget who signs their paychecks – American citizens.
At this point we need more reasons to come together as a nation, rather than yet another piece of legislation that will only divide us further.
SB 1070 will have its day in court. The judicial branch will have the final say in whether or not Arizona police officers will be mandated to request documentation from suspected illegal immigrants. The outcome should, by most predictions, reaffirm the notion that the federal government is solely responsible for all matters relating to immigration.
Perhaps the federal government needs this reminder to take its immigration role more seriously. Arizona simply can not continue to absorb the financial and social blows that have resulted from our nation’s porous border.