Arizona’s SB 1070 threatens to collapse U.S. immigration system

Law enforcers also argue anti-immigrant law is threat to public safety and national security

A legal center affiliated with New York University has filed a proposed friend-of-the-court brief in federal court supporting the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit seeking suspension of Arizona’s recently adopted illegal immigration law, which is slated to become effective July 29.

The proposed brief, still awaiting the judge’s approval, challenges the Arizona law, dubbed SB 1070, on the basis of the damage it would inflict on public safety.

“Local law enforcement in Arizona … simply cannot effectively maintain public safety if … large segments of the community are alienated or unwilling to interact with law enforcement out of fear of possible deportation for themselves or someone they know,” states the proposed brief filed by the NYU School of Law’s Center on the Administration of Criminal Law — which counts among its leadership Anne Milgram, the former New Jersey attorney general; and Anthony Barkow, a former federal prosecutor. “... The deleterious effect of the Arizona immigration law is not confined to localities or immigrant communities. Indeed, it poses a risk to national security by undermining the positive relationships forged with immigrant communities and the ability of police to obtain valuable information from all members of the community.”

That attack on the Arizona law, which will require local police officers in the state to seek out and hold (in jail if necessary) anyone suspected of being in the country without state-sanctioned paperwork, is also a major underlying theme in the DOJ lawsuit itself, expressed most directly in a series of affidavits filed as part of the litigation and which have received scant press attention. Those affidavits include sworn statements prepared by high-level officials with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State, as well as several Arizona police chiefs.

The NYU legal center’s brief points out that, under the Arizona law, police officers in the state are required to investigate the immigration status of individuals during the enforcement of any “law or ordinance of a county, city or town or this state … which would appear to include petty disorderly persons offenses (such as loitering) and minor traffic infractions.”

The breadth of that language, the brief alleges, “has the potential to … alienate large segments of the population in Arizona, and in the process undermine public safety” due to the breakdown in trust of the police it will foster.

However, according tot officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is part of DHS and is charged with enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, that breakdown threatens to extend well beyond trust.

System Threatened

ICE Executive Associate Director for Management and Administration Daniel Ragsdale, in an affidavit filed in the DOJ litigation now pending in Arizona federal court, lays out some math that makes clear the danger SB 1070 poses to the nation’s immigration system – and to U.S. national security.

Ragsdale explains, in his affidavit, that “ICE is resourced to remove each year approximately 400,000” undocumented immigrants. He adds that, at present, not counting the new arrivals daily, there are about10.8 million individuals living in the U.S. “illegally” (likely an undercount) – some 460,000 in Arizona alone.

Simple math shows that, even if not one new person entered the country illegally, it would take ICE about 27 years to remove every “illegal” alien from the country — absent a huge increase in law-enforcement resources, paid for at taxpayers’ expense. The new Arizona law, then, essentially puts that state’s undocumented immigrant problem at the head of the line by commanding that limited federal resources be devoted to its population, at the expense of all other states and on the dime of taxpayers living in other states.

ICE in Arizona is not “staffed to assume additional duties,” Ragsdale stresses in his affidavit.

He continues:

And with increasing proportions of criminal aliens in ICE custody and static [jail] bed space, detention resources will be directed to those aliens who present a danger to the community and the greatest risk of flight. Thus, to respond to the number of referrals likely to be generated by enforcement of SB 1070 [thousands in number] would require ICE to divert existing resources from other duties, resulting in fewer resources being available to dedicate to cases and aliens within ICE’s priorities. This outcome is especially problematic because ICE’s current priorities are focused on national security, public safety and security of the border.

Diverting resources to cover the influx of referrals from Arizona (and other states, to the extent similar laws are adopted) could, therefore, mean decreasing ICE’s ability to focus on priorities such as protecting national security or public safety in order to pursue aliens who are in the United States illegally but pose no immediate danger or threat to the safety and security of the public.

David Palmatier, who oversees ICE’s Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC), which is charged with verifying via its computer system individuals’ immigration status based on requests from law enforcers in the field, describes the situation this way in an affidavit he filed as part of the DOJ lawsuit against Arizona.

This increase in queries from Arizona [due to its new law] will delay response times for all IAQs [illegal alien queries] and risks exceeding the capacity of the LESC to respond to higher priority requests for criminal alien status determination from law enforcement partners nationwide. Furthermore, the potential increase in queries by Arizona, along with the possibility of other stat es adopting similar legislation, could overwhelm the system.

And if federal immigration system is overwhelmed and can’t respond to the influx of new quires due to the Arizona law, the problem will simply be shifted to law enforcers in the state.

Tucson Chief of Police Roberto Villaseñor, in an affidavit he filed as part of the DOJ lawsuit, describes the new Arizona law as an “unfunded mandate” that essentially imposes “a federal responsibility on local law enforcement … with not an additional cent from the state” to deal with the expanded responsibilities.

Villaseñor continues:

This new law will take many officers form their patrol and enforcement duties while they process and/or transport what will amount to thousands of individuals, at a time when due to budgetary constraints my department is losing both resources and officer positions.

… The result will be the detention and incarceration of vast numbers [of people] that up until now have been simply cited and released for various offences. Most taxing, however, is if there are no Customs and Border Protection agents or Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees available to establish immigration status, these offenders, who might otherwise have been cited and released, must be booked in the Pima County Jail. The sheriff of Pima County charges the city $200.38 for the first day and $82.03 for any subsequent day of jail for misdemeanor and petty offences

Remember to multiply that jail-cost number, or one close to it, by thousands across the hundreds of law enforcement jurisdictions in Arizona — a figure that will be in addition to the increased federal dollars expended to support the expanded detentions fostered by the unfunded Arizona law.

And, it is worth noting that included among those who will surely be jailed under the Arizona laws’ wide-ranging dragnet powers are U.S. citizens as well as immigrants in the states deserving of protection (such as victims of human trafficking or those seeking asylum from political persecution) who, for one reason or another, lack Arizona-sanctioned immigration paperwork.

In a nutshell, the Arizona law, coupled with similar laws being pursued in other states, such as Oklahoma, Utah and South Carolina, will put huge demands on very limited law-enforcement resources.

Consequently, absent a major investment in resources by taxpayers that could well make the bank-bailout price tag look like cookie-jar money (and vastly expand the prison-industrial complex in the process), or the adoption of a national immigration reform law that includes a path to citizenship, these piecemeal state power grabs on the immigration-law front, left unchecked, could well collapse an already fragile system.

Here and There

The internal problems created for the U.S. by the Arizona law, and those to follow in its wake, also foster considerable foreign policy complications for the nation.

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, in an affidavit filed in the DOJ lawsuit, states the following:

… The criticism provoked by the Arizona law threatens at least three direct harms to U.S. foreign relations. … Such a change in immigration policy [as represented by SB 1070) invariably risks the adoption of harmful reciprocal polices toward U.S. nationals by foreign governments. [The State Department estimates that up to one million U.S. citizens live in Mexico alone.]

It [the Arizona law] also undermines the willingness of foreign states to engage bilaterally and multilaterally with the United States to advance U.S. foreign policy goals, and it erodes the credibility of United States efforts in regional and multilateral intergovernmental bodies to advance human rights.

In fact, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer just unilaterally canceled the 28th Annual U.S.-Mexico Border Governors Conference, slated to take place in Phoenix in the fall, due to a threatened boycott by the participating Mexican governors.

According to Steinberg’s affidavit, a number of United Nations and regional intergovernmental organizations have already publicly condemned the Arizona law, including a group of six UN human rights experts, member countries of the UN Human Rights Council, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, and heads of government from the Union of South American Nations.

“The Arizona Legislatures adoption of S.B. 1070 [has] prompted harsh criticism of the law in human rights forums, demonstrating in practical terms the negative consequences that unilateral action by a single U.S. state can have on U.S. foreign policy interests,” Steinberg states in his affidavit. “The law has diminished our credibility in advocating for human rights compliance abroad by others, and if allowed to go into effect [at the end of July] will continue to do so.”

So, as the battle over SB 1070 plays out in the nation’s courts and mainstream media, keep in mind what you are not likely to hear much about, that the stakes are not measured only in Constitutional principles, such as the Supremacy Clause that puts federal law above state law; or border security, or political calculations over the Hispanic vote; or even civil rights issues such as racial profiling.

Though arguably all are important in the context of the Arizona law, those concerns overlook the far more pragmatic effects of SB 1070 — effects that, according to some of the nation’s highest-ranking law enforcers and diplomatic officials, threaten to destroy an already anemic immigration system, undermine U.S. foreign policy and jeopardize public safety and national security.

It is the conversation over those issues, measured in real dollars and lives, that is being pushed to the sidelines in this polarizing debate over immigration. But it is precisely the conversation that needs to begin if we are to save the system from collapse under the weight of its own hubris.

Stay tuned….


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