"The argument that the Justice Department is making here, is you know, the fundamental question, which is where does state authority begin and end when it comes to federal immigration law?" said Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council.
The new law, which won't take effect until the summer, compels police to seek identification of individuals they suspect might be in the country illegally - something civil rights advocates believe will lead to racial profiling and other abuses. Despite those concerns, 12 state legislatures have introduced, or are considering, similar legislation, according to a recent analysis by the Immigration Policy Center, the research arm of the American Immigration Council, an advocacy group.
Some police departments argue federal immigration enforcement undermine their core missions, said Wendy Feliz Sefsaf of the American Immigration Council.
"It [Arizona's law] goes against all the goals of community policing," she said. "There's definitely law enforcement out there saying this kind of thing doesn't work."
In fact, last week police chiefs from Los Angeles, Tucson, Houston, Philadelphia and other cities, met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and said laws like Arizona's would lead to increases in crime.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said Arizona's law "will likely hinder" federal efforts to detain and remove "dangerous criminal aliens." Calling for immigration reform on the national level, she said "this issue cannot be solved by a patchwork of inconsistent state laws."
The flurry of local legislation is adding to the pressure on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and avoid adding to a hodgepodge of laws regulating immigration.
“There is real frustration because our immigration system is broken,” said Michele Waslin of the Washington-based Immigration Policy Center. “But you also need to look at what this type of legislation says about you as a city.”
Right now, the Obama Administration has misplaced priorities when it comes to border security. The American Immigration Council believes policy makers must make a distinction in any comprehensive immigration reform package between undocumented immigrants crossing the border and the drug induced violence of the drug cartels. “But cracking down on unauthorized immigrants in the United States is not going to diminish violence in border communities because unauthorized immigrants aren't the perpetrators, criminal cartels are.”
Benjamin Johnson of the American Immigration Council said, "If the only way you're going to be able to enforce the law is to get really close to that line, if not cross over it, then that's a problem."
Fixing the border to solve immigration problems without addressing other issues is a little like solving just one side of a puzzle, an immigration policy expert said yesterday.
“You fix one side of a Rubik’s Cube, but the rest is a mess,” Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, said.
Giovagnoli spoke at the ninth annual Cambio de Colores conference in Columbia. The three-day event focuses on Hispanics and immigrants in Midwestern communities and is co-sponsored by the University of Missouri System, MU, MU Extension and the Cambio Center.