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A year later, Ariz. immigration fight rages

Governor refuses to yield on law over opposition by courts, president

- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2011

PHOENIX | It spawned myriad court challenges, calls to boycott this year's Major League Baseball All-Star Game and more than a dozen copycat proposals in other states — but the one thing Arizona's tough immigration law has not done is put anyone behind bars.

The law, known best by its legislative designation, SB 1070, turns 1 year old on Saturday, but it has spent the entire time in legal limbo. With most of its provisions halted by court order and a potential Supreme Court fight in the offing, the legislation's major legacy has been to inflame an already heated debate and underscore the tension between states, who want action, and Washington, where stalemate still persists on all aspects of immigration policy.

"The law first really ignited people in regards to the border issue," Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer told The Washington Times this week. "It united America, and the more that it was talked about the more people understood just exactly what was happening here in Arizona, and now they realize it's not just Arizona it's happening to, but Arizona is the gateway to so many states in our country that are being affected by illegal immigration."

At its root, the law was designed to give local police more powers to detect and report illegal immigrants to federal authorities. Lawmakers said it would help push illegal immigrants to leave the state, while local law enforcement said they needed a tool to help combat the effects of illegal immigration.

Opponents, including President Obama, predicted the new powers would lead to racial profiling, and many state businesses argued that they needed illegal-immigrant labor to compete and keep their prices low for consumers.

Civil rights groups sued, citing potential abuses, but the Obama administration confined its lawsuit to constitutional issues of federal versus state powers — and so far, it has been winning its battle with the state.

First a district court and then a federal appeals court have blocked crucial parts of the law. In a 2-1 ruling earlier this month, the appeals court agreed with the administration that the law interferes with the federal government's rights to set immigration policy and to conduct foreign relations.

Arizona's Mrs. Brewer, a Republican who easily won a second term in November, said the fight is far from over.

She told The Washington Times that she will pursue an appeal, but she has not decided whether to go straight to the Supreme Court or to ask the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case. But she said there are no thoughts about stepping back and trying to rewrite the law to conform with the judges' rulings.

"I think the consensus, if my read is correct, is that the legislature is not really interested in doing that. They feel like we're on pretty solid ground, and we just need to move forward directly," she said.

Business pushback

A study released this year by the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center calculated that if SB 1070 were to become law and force illegal immigrants out of the state, Arizona would lose 317,000 workers - or nearly 10 percent of its workforce.

The report also said the additional spending and other economic activities of those illegal immigrants generated another 264,000 jobs.

Those sorts of figures have been sobering to Arizona's business community.

"The Chamber, like many other business organizations, was neutral on SB 1070 last year, believing that the bill mostly dealt with law enforcement issues and did not directly affect the workplace," Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in a statement to lawmakers last month. "But as we watched the unintended consequences unfold, we saw that Arizona businesses were taking a direct hit to their bottom line in the midst of a deep recession."

Saying they wanted to repair the state's economic climate, Mr. Hamer and other business leaders successfully fought a wave of bills cracking down even further on illegal immigration that Arizona lawmakers debated this year. Among them was a proposal to require hospitals and schools to determine the legal status of their patients or students.

In the wake of SB 1070, Hispanic-rights activists across the country urged a boycott of the state. Among those supporting the call was Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who was so angered by his state's action that he asked companies to shun business there.

Mr. Grijalva rescinded his boycott call once the law was enjoined by a judge, but a year later he still argues that the legislation is a bad idea.

"If proponents were serious about immigration reform they would have pursued more effective and legally sound legislation. Instead, they scored a few quick political points and have left the issue on the back burner ever since," he said. "By any measure, SB 1070's enforcement-only approach is an insufficient solution to a nationwide issue that demands more thoughtful treatment."

New crop of stars

Nationwide, the law helped create a host of new political stars.

Mrs. Brewer, who ascended to the governorship after Gov. Janet A. Napolitano, a Democrat, left to join President Obama's Cabinet, cruised to re-election while vastly expanding her national profile. Kris Kobach, a law professor who worked on the legislation's language, has become Kansas' secretary of state, and former Rep. Nathan Deal's promise to pursue a similar bill in Georgia helped him win the Georgia governor's race last year.

Mr. Deal said this week that he would sign an Arizona-style crackdown that is making its way through the Georgia legislature, and similar legislation has been debated in statehouses across the country.

But successful copycats have been the exception rather than the rule, and the ardor in Arizona for going further has diminished.

The law has not been totally overturned, however.

The district court let stand provisions of SB 1070 designed to end so-called "sanctuary city" policies. State law enforcement officers now cannot be prevented from reporting to federal officials illegal immigrants they encounter in the course of their regular duties.

Also in effect are provisions that allow officers to ticket day laborers and the employers trying to hire them if they are deemed to be impeding traffic. Those provisions' goal was to try to put pressure on contractors and small-time employers not to turn to illegal labor.

But Sheriff Larry A. Dever, whose Cochise County jurisdiction shares 82 miles of border with Mexico, said he doesn't know of any law enforcement agencies that are actively using that part of the law.

"The whole thing is still on the shelf until the Supreme Court hears it," he said.

Defending the law

Sheriff Dever and Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County, south of Phoenix, formed the Border Sheriffs Association and filed their own legal briefs to defend the law against the Obama administration's challenge.

"It's probably a better idea today than the day it passed," Sheriff Dever said. "I have three of my boys and one daughter-in-law who are law enforcement officers here in the state of Arizona working the streets. They would have told you before the law was even mentioned, and they'll tell you today, it is a tool they need to clean up their communities."

Mr. Obama criticized the law from the start, saying it gave too much power to police. He told one audience that "now, suddenly, if you don't have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you're going to be harassed."

Officials from his administration have said the law could overwhelm federal authorities' ability to handle all of the calls for assistance from local police. They also argue the steps they have taken - temporarily deploying the National Guard to the border, hiring more Border Patrol agents and boosting available technology - have made the region more secure than ever.

"It is simply inaccurate to state, as too many have, that the border with Mexico is overrun or out of control," Ms. Napolitano, the former governor who is now homeland security secretary, said last month at a forum on immigration hosted by liberal advocacy group NDN. "This statement — I think sometimes it's made to score some political points — but it's wrong. It's just plain wrong."

The administration's arguments infuriate Sheriff Babeu, who said the criticism portrays local police as the enemy.

"Who's the bad guy of the story [Mr. Obama] goes on to tell? It's one of my deputies, one of Arizona's finest police officers, that the president said is going to demand papers from a man for no other reason than the color of his skin," Sheriff Babeu said.

He said that even if the number of illegal crossings is dropping, the level of violence is growing. He said the number of high-speed chases in Pinal County increased from 140 in 2007 to 340 in 2010.

"It's not because my deputies like to drive fast," he said. "It underscored the border is not more secure than ever. The tactics have changed. They're not fleeing every time. They want to fight my deputies."

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