Arizona business and political leaders say the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of the state’s illegal-immigration crackdown should prompt more sweeping change: a federal overhaul of how the government polices the border and handles undocumented residents.
The justices tomorrow will hear arguments on whether a measure known as Senate Bill 1070 goes too far by requiring law officers to check the status of those they suspect are in the U.S. illegally, and to arrest those they believe eligible to be deported.
Fallout from the 2010 law, which sparked boycotts and charges of racism, shows federal action is needed, said Todd Sanders, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. People on both sides of the issue say that no matter what the court decides, they want Congress to secure the Mexican border, create a guest-worker program and find pathways to legal status for some long-time residents.
“There are enough people out there talking about the need for a national solution so it will spur the folks at the congressional level to take a hard look at it and make realistic suggestions,” Sanders said.
About 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants were in the U.S. in 2011, up from 8.5 million in 2000, according to a Homeland Security Department report. More than half were from Mexico.
“Senate Bill 1070 doesn’t solve the problem,” said Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, 67, a Republican who signed the law, in an April 19 interview. “We need to address those issues. How we address them, I have no answer for you.”
The high court probably will rule by the end of June in a decision that will lay out how far states can go in passing immigration rules. The decision may affect similar measures in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Utah.
The Obama administration argues that the Arizona law, much of which hasn’t taken effect because of legal challenges, would intrude on the federal government’s exclusive power over immigration. While states may help the U.S. government enforce those laws, Arizona is interfering, the administration says.
Arizona contends it has the right to tackle a law- enforcement matter that the national government has failed to address. President Barack Obama’s Republican challengers have said his administration hasn’t done enough to secure the nearly 2,000 mile (3,200 kilometers) border with Mexico.
Obama on Immigration
Obama in 2008 called for an immigration overhaul, including a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. He called the failure of the Dream Act “maybe my biggest disappointment.” It would have provided permanent residency to most college graduates and military veterans who arrived as children illegally.
During the presidency of George W. Bush, bipartisan measures to add security to the U.S.-Mexico border, increase the number of guest workers and provide a path to legal status failed in Congress.
Congressional action is unlikely until after the election, said William A. Galston, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, a research organization. The influence of the Tea Party has made it difficult for Republicans to compromise with Democrats, he said.
‘Compelled to Act’
“One certainly hopes that whatever the court does, Congress will feel compelled to act,” Galston said.
Boycotts of Arizona called after the law passed by groups including the National Council of La Raza, a Washington-based Hispanic civil-rights organization, cost the state conventions and contracts. Dozens of protests also have been held in the state since the law was approved, and a march is planned in Phoenix tomorrow.
Civil-rights groups have filed legal challenges, saying the law will lead to racial profiling by police and the harassment of Latino citizens.
“Regardless of what the court does, Congress is going to have to act,” said Todd Landfried, executive director of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform, a group formed in 2007 whose 350 members include Arizona State University, KB Home and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Arizona has been at the forefront of immigration policy fights for more than a decade. Brewer blames the federal government’s increased border enforcement in California and Texas in the mid-1990s for pushing more migrant traffic through the state and turning its 368 mile (592 kilometer) border with Mexico into a deadly desert gateway.
In 2004, Arizona became the first state to pass a law requiring voters to present identification at the polls. A provision requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote by mail was struck down by an 11-judge panel of the San Francisco- based U.S. Court of Appeals on April 17.
State voters have passed measures banning benefits, in- state tuition and bail for undocumented migrants. In 2007, then- Governor Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who is now U.S. Homeland Security secretary, signed legislation that requires employers to confirm workers’ eligibility for employment using federal databases. It threatens those who hire illegal workers with loss of licenses.
This measure, called “a model” by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during a Feb. 22 debate in Mesa, Arizona, was upheld by the Supreme Court in May.
Failure to Act
“From the time that employer sanctions were introduced and passed in 2007, through SB 1070, the entire mantra was, ‘We have to do this because the federal government isn’t doing its job,’” Landfried, 55, said.
Brewer said she signed the immigration law because of federal failures.
“We wouldn’t have Senate Bill 1070 if we would have had a secure border,” Brewer said. “It is not just the present administration that hasn’t done it. It’s the previous administration and the previous administration prior and back to Ronald Reagan when he let everybody stay, and amnesty was granted but the border wasn’t secured.”
Brewer has said border security must come before immigration reform. She said she is grateful for an increase in federal detentions and deportations during the past year -- and that more should be done to stop illegal entrants.
The U.S. deported 396,906 illegal immigrants in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, a record, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Undocumented in Arizona
Arizona’s population of unauthorized immigrants fell to 360,000 in 2011 from 560,000 in 2008, according to the Homeland Security Department.
Lisa Urias, co-founder of the Real Arizona Coalition, a joint effort started last year by business and civil rights groups to rebuild the state’s image and foster fruitful conversations about federal reform, said SB 1070 galvanized the business community and encouraged more cooperation. Measures to require schools and hospitals to report undocumented immigrants died after opposition from business leaders.
“There are always good things that come out of crisis,” Urias, 49, said in a telephone interview. “I do believe SB 1070 was a crisis point for Arizona with this collide of political ideals.”
The case is Arizona v. United States, 11-182.
--With assistance from Greg Stohr in Washington. Editors: Justin Blum, Stephen Merelman
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