The Arizona State Legislature recently passed the toughest immigration legislation on record. The bill is currently on Arizona Governor Jan Bewer’s desk for signing – she must sign or veto by April 25, 2010.
The bill, if signed into law, will make it a crime under state law to be an undocumented immigrant in the state of Arizona. It also gives state and local police the authority to stop and question anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant.
Opponents of the bill say that it will result in racial profiling against Hispanics and serious violations of basic civil rights. They also fear that the law will make undocumented residents more reluctant to call the police in cases of emergency, resulting in higher rates of crime and abuse. Hundreds protested the bill yesterday outside the Arizona State Capital complex.
President Obama called the bill “misguided” and worries that it could violate civil rights. He asked the Justice Department to investigate the bills constitutionality. To date, regulation of immigration n the United States has been a responsibility of the federal government. If signed into law, Arizona’s venture into enforcing immigration laws will likely result in numerous legal battles. Obama also stated that the “recent efforts in Arizona… threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe” (The Associated Press, April 23, 2010).
Arizona is the state with the most border crossings by illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America, including Salvadorans. An estimated 2,000,000 Salvadorans currently live in the United States, making El Salvador one of the top 10 countries of origin for immigrants in the US. (Inter-Press Service, October 18, 2009). Although Texas, California, New York, New Jersey and the DC Metropolitan area have the most concentrated Salvadoran populations, the Arizona bill could set a dangerous precedent for other states, and negatively impact hundreds of thousands of undocumented Salvadoran immigrants.
President Obama also said that the federal government must enact immigration reform now or they will leave to door open to more irresponsibility by others (The Associated Press, April 23, 2010). During his presidential campaign, Obama identified immigration reform as one of the main issues that the nation must face, and that his administration would enact new legislation within a year of his taking office. Unfortunately they have made little progress on the issue, and it is unlikely that Washington will take on such a difficult topic during an election year. In previous statements, however, President Obama has stated that his aim is to move the focus of the debate away from catching and deporting the more than 12 million undocumented workers, a goal he called “ridiculous” in a February 2008 speech. Instead, he has called for policies that would give current undocumented immigrants routes to legal citizenship and make legal immigration more accessible to future immigrants by improving the current bureaucracy and lowering fees. President Obama has also stated a desire to strengthen border security and crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers in order to cut down on incentives to immigrate illegally and to encourage becoming a legal citizen. (http://www.barackobama.com/issues/immigration/index_campaign.php)
Whether or not Governor Brewer signs the bill into law, the Arizona debate has highlighted the extreme differences in national opinion, and the need for action. Perhaps it will even be the spark needed to reignite the immigration debate and bring about real reform.