Benjamin Johnson, a researcher with the American Immigration Institute, said the immigration debate in the United States has become entirely fixed on the issue of “securing the border.” He cited the recently signed Arizona state law that gave police greater power to enforce federal immigration laws. Fear and uncertainty about the border led to the passage of that law, Johnson insisted.
“This appetite for enforcement at the border seems almost insatiable,” he said. “The focus of legislative efforts and debate seem to always come back to this question of border enforcement.”
During a teleconference hosted by the Immigration Policy Center last week, Aarti Kohli, director of immigration policy at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity at the Berkeley School of Law, said Operation Streamline is an example of “a misdirected policy.”
Much has been said about Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, allowing state law enforcement officials to stop, question, detain and report individuals based on suspicion of undocumented status. Outrage against this bill is pervasive. Some say it hearkens back to Jim Crow, others say it legalizes racial profiling.
Arizona, lacking the authority to deport anyone, will enforce jail sentences laid out in its new law for, say, failing to carry one's immigration authorization documents or soliciting day work by the side of the road, said Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, a pro-immigrants' rights group. While the federal system is far from perfect (thousands of people are locked up in federal detention centers indefinitely awaiting deportation decisions), the addition of new immigration crimes at the state level with jail time attached isn't the answer, she added.
Legislators in at least 22 states have introduced or are considering similar legislation to Arizona's, according to the Washington, D.C., based Immigration Policy Center -- a research arm of the American Immigration Council that advocates comprehensive immigration reform.
Not all state legislation related to immigration is punitive -- much of it falls within traditional state jurisdiction, such as attempts to improve high school graduation rates among immigrants, according to the Center.
Walter Ewing, a senior researcher at the Immigration Policy Center in Washington, D.C., had read the headlines, listened to the television commentators, and witnessed the ongoing, thorny and evolving health care debate that polarized elected officials and much of America over the last years.
"Since the Calderon administration has taken office, you have around 20,000 homicides that have occurred, many of those from U.S. weapons," said Dr. David Shirk, Director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of California, San Diego, during a conference call on border security arranged by the Immigration Policy Center. "It's really hard to deal honestly with Mexico and say we want you to help us continue this effort but we're not going to stop arming the people that you're fighting by clapping down a little bit more on our own southbound flow of guns."
There are plenty of features of the law that critics find objectionable. Among them are the penalties. Under federal law, violations of immigration statutes by someone in the U.S. illegally may in some cases be punished with a jail sentence but are often penalized by deporting the individual instead, if the government proves its case to a judge through a comprehensive set of procedures. Arizona, lacking the authority to deport anyone, will enforce jail sentences laid out in its new law for, say, failing to carry one’s immigration authorization documents or soliciting day work by the side of the road, said Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, a pro-immigrants’ rights group. While the federal system is far from perfect (thousands of people are locked up in federal detention centers indefinitely awaiting deportation decisions), the addition of new immigration crimes at the state level with jail time attached isn’t the answer, she added.
Delaware lawmakers are researching legislation in other states that could be the basis of an immigration bill here, including Arizona's controversial new law and Oklahoma's 2007 measure, which once was considered the most restrictive in the country.