Saying no to Arizona


Next year, the Supreme Court will consider a challenge to the noxious immigration law passed in Arizona in 2010. The justices are expected to consider whether states may adopt laws that take the lead on immigration enforcement. We hope the court will rule that they may not, and that it strikes down this ill-conceived law as an intrusion into the federal government’s lone mandate to establish such policy.

We understand that Arizona and other states are frustrated by Congress’ years of inaction. But this law does more harm than good. By turning police officers into immigration agents, it distracts them from needed local law enforcement and invites abuse. Just consider Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s record in Maricopa County, Ariz. His highly publicized sweeps of Latino neighborhoods in search of undocumented immigrants haven’t reduced crime. In fact, last week he was forced to apologize after news reports revealed that his deputies failed to properly examine at least 400 sex crime allegations, many involving child molestation accusations, between 2005 and 2007. And surely his overzealous pursuit of illegal immigrants hasn’t made it any easier for deputies to secure the cooperation of illegal immigrants and their families in investigating crimes; Latinos understandably fear that any contact with law enforcement may land them or a relative in deportation proceedings.

Arizona officials argue that their law doesn’t preempt the federal government’s constitutional authority over immigration because the measure seeks only to enforce or bolster existing federal laws. That’s specious. The problem with Arizona’s law is precisely that it sets out to tell the Department of Homeland Security how to do its job. It allows Arizona police to decide who is to be deported, and it leaves federal authorities and immigration courts to contend with the additional cases. That’s why two federal courts moved quickly to block key provisions of the law from taking effect.


The reality is that the federal government doesn’t have the manpower or resources to deport the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the country. For that reason, the Obama administration has set clear priorities that focus on deporting criminals who pose a risk to communities. But Arizona’s law undermines that sensible plan by redirecting federal resources. The Department of Homeland Security can’t focus on those illegal immigrants who pose a real danger to communities if it’s too busy responding to cases from states with different priorities.

The high court ought to strike down Arizona’ law because it is a blatant attempt to intrude on the federal government’s exclusive power to set immigration policy. But in the end, even a strong, clear court ruling in favor of the federal government won’t fix the larger problem facing this nation. Only Congress can restore sanity to our irrational system by enacting comprehensive immigration reform.