Earlier this week, Arizona lawmakers passed anti-immigration legislation that is unique in its stringency and harshness. The bill would strongly encourage police officers to engage in racial profiling by ordering them to check the status of people they merely suspectsuspect of being in the U.S. illegally. Even legal immigrants, in a move that harks back to fascist Europe, would be required to carry their papers at all times or risk arrest. Apparently Arizona legislators have forgotten Proposition 187, the 1994 California ballot initiative. That measure, popular with a frustrated public but ultimately deemed unconstitutional, would have cut off services, including healthcare and public education, for illegal immigrants. Arizonans have forgotten the lawsuits, national outrage and political backlash.
Although the California and Arizona measures are different, the frustration with federal apathy that fuels them is the same. Arizona is hostile to illegal immigrants because it is the main point of entry to the U.S. for migrants coming in from Mexico. (Californian hysteria softened after the San Diego border was fortified in 1994 and migration routes shifted to Arizona and Texas).
Some of the most established trails from Mexico crisscross private property in Arizona. Homes along these trails are sometimes burgled and vandalized; property is damaged. Some trails are littered with empty water bottles and human waste; trash, diapers, cigarette boxes and discarded backpacks. These are thoroughfares not just for job-seekers but for human traffickers and gun-toting drug smugglers.
The sense of peril at the border has been heightened by the killing last month of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz. Krentz was known for aiding migrants who landed on his property dehydrated, hurt and hungry. Tracks from the scene where he and his dog were shot led back toward Mexico.
But the Arizona bill is not just a reaction to that tragedy; it was in the works well before the killing. Rather, it is the state's way of expressing frustration with the federal government and preparing itself for the comprehensive federal immigration reform residents fear is coming. In the eyes of many Arizonans, any new law granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants will open a floodgate into their backyard.
Arizona's new legislation is terribly wrongheaded, but the state's sense of abandonment by Washington is not something the rest of us can shrug off. Congress must find the courage to create a policy that sensibly regulates the flow of immigration. Arizona ranchers living along the border are fearful for their lives, and migrants are dying in the desert. Inaction penalizes everyone. The solution is not for Arizona to criminalize illegal immigration, which has generally been regarded as a civil violation, or to encourage a culture of civil rights violations and racial profiling. We urge Gov. Jan Brewer not to let these measures become law.