Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Three Thoughts on the Arizona Immigration Law

Much has been written in the last few days about the infamous Arizona measure--provided here in its entirety--which defines undocumented stay on Arizona soil a state offense and authorizes police officers to stop people based on reasonable suspicion that they might be in the country illegally. Beyond the obvious arguments regarding status offenses and racial profiling, here are a few issues that have received a little less publicity.

First, in creating a state offense of being in the country illegally, Arizona would generate somewhat of a conflict: Should people caught under the new measure be incarcerated or deported? It is quite astonishing that, in times of prison overcrowding and resource scarcity, a state would be willing to undertake the trouble and expense to handle people who can just as easily be handed over to the feds. Our regular readers may recall how much Governor Schwarzenegger emphasized the deportation, and federalization, of undocumented inmates, as a way to overcome the overcrowding crisis--even suggesting, at some point, to build special prisons in Mexico. Does Arizona not face similar problems? Mona Lynch's recent book is eerily apropos here: Over the last few decades, Arizona grew from a state of sparse, swift, cheap punishment, to a penal monster. Does it really need the budgetary burden of handling undocumented inmates?

Second, this brings up the question whether law enforcement agencies are even interested in enforcing this measure. We know the answer is affirmative at least in one case--that of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, famous for his humiliating punishment methods, odd penal innovations, and ruthless persecution of undocumented immigrants (Arpaio has only recently decided against entering the Arizona gubernatorial race). Other lawmakers, however, might resent the need to devote precious resources to the hunt of undocumented immigrants at the expense of curbing violent crime.

Third, the most astonishing bit of this bill seems to be a clause that allows Arizonians a private right of action if the police does not spend the appropriate resources to pursue undocumented immigrants. Given our previous conversations on public punitiveness, this is a great cause of concern; the lack of budgetary literacy in the public, and the lack of knowledge that any expenditure choice comes at the expense of something else, does not bode well for this measure.

props to my fabulous colleague David Levine for the conversation that sparked this post.

1 comment:

Billy Dee said...

I think this law is a perfect example of sating public hysteria. There are a lot of people who are not happy with the immigration situation in America and this is the kind of bill that feeds directly to their concerns.

The best part for the writers of the legislation is that the fight in court will be above the public's head because many of the arguments will be about federalism and federal preemption. If this bill is declared unconstitutional for one of the more arcane constitutional reasons then the courts can be painted as activist.

The theory I subscribe to is that this bill is John Brown and will be intentionally sacrificed to bring about federal immigration reform, a topic that is odd in that regular party lines do not necessarily matter, and it becomes an issue of geographic politics.

Most importantly, I was watching the Simpsons (per usual) and an episode came on that described the condition perfectly.


It is the 7th Season episode entitled "Much Apu About Nothing" where a wandering bear comes into town and the town goes crazy and demands a bear patrol. To pay for the patrol there is a $5 tax and Homer gets very upset. [Homer]"Let the bears pay the bear tax, I pay the Homer tax."
[Lisa]"That's the home owner tax dad."
So the mayor decides that immigrants are to blame for all taxes and the city goes crazy about passing an initiative deporting the foreigners (Prop. 24).

Check it out and you can laugh about the situation we find ourselves in now.