Can Arizona’s immigration law be stopped?

Arizona’s damaging new immigration law is set to take effect Thursday. If that happens, police officers will be given broad new authority to apprehend illegal immigrants, Latinos will almost certainly find themselves subject to increased racial profiling, and the state will have resorted to a harsh and unfair policy to solve a problem that requires a nuanced and comprehensive approach. The federal government has sought an injunction to prevent the law from going into effect while its lawsuit against Arizona is heard. Although the legal bar for an injunction is high, the Justice Department’s case against the law is sound and, regardless of the decision reached by District Judge Susan Bolton this week, the ultimate goal remains the same: overturning SB 1070.

One of the chief arguments against the Arizona law is that federal immigration policy is multifaceted: It takes a global view of immigration resources and determines how best to allocate them. The Obama administration, for example, has decided that the government should target employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants and illegal immigrants who commit crimes. It also considers immigration in terms of foreign relations, including the relationship between the United States and Mexico, one of this country’s largest trading partners. Under the new law, however, Arizona would interfere in such matters, commandeering federal resources to nab nannies and gardeners, a clear infringement on federal authority.

Arizona has one legitimate argument: that the federal government has failed to solve the immigration problem. That is true. Employers have hired illegal immigrants with impunity for generations. And even as it has ignored illegal immigration, the government has also made it increasingly difficult to immigrate legally from some countries. Even those who are approved for a visa to come to the United States can find themselves growing old waiting for it, and that interminable delay is a major inducement for illegal immigration.


Admittedly, Arizona is in a difficult position. There, Mexico’s vicious drug war is not just a headline; it’s a few miles away. Phoenix has more kidnappings than any other U.S. city, with most of the victims related to the drug war. On the other hand, Arizona already is under scrutiny for its treatment of immigrants. The Justice Department is investigating the Maricopa County sheriff’s department over allegations of discriminatory police practices, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and allegations of “national origin discrimination.”

The question isn’t whether Arizona suffers negative consequences from illegal immigration. Of course it does. The entire nation does. But the solution is not a mishmash of angry laws adopted on a state-by-state basis. Washington must retain the authority to solve the problem, and then Washington must act.