The Forgotten Americans

By Marguerite Telford and Marguerite Telford on July 3, 2012

The media immediately responded to the Supreme Court's decision on SB1070 with the expected winner-loser political statements we have all come to expect. Now, not only can the Democrats and Republicans not work together, the states and the feds can't either. Lost in the multitude of news reports and opinion articles is the sad situation that brought about the drafting of Arizona's "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act" in the first place.

As a border state with an estimated 560,000 illegal immigrants as of 2008, Arizona struggles with the economic and social consequences of illegal immigration. George Borjas, a well-respected Harvard labor economist, estimated that illegals cost the state a minimum of $1.4 billion in lower wages in 2005. Fast forward six years and the Federation for American Immigration Reform estimated the number has almost doubled to $2.7 billion. Moreover, in 2007, the Center for Immigration Studies estimated that illegal immigrants and their U.S.-born children (under 18) comprised one-fifth of those in the state living in poverty, one-third of those without health insurance, and one out of six students in the state's schools.

But it gets worse. Couple these costs with the increased crime citizens of the state have been experiencing, especially those who live close to the border. The Supreme Court felt compelled to note this in the majority decision, quoting the Center for Immigration Studies' 2009 report on immigration and crime, which revealed a legitimate public safety concern.

Driven by this dismal economic picture, Arizona drafted and passed legislation, fully supported by an overwhelming majority of residents, to encourage illegals to leave the state. At the same time, Governor Brewer signed an executive order requiring training for law enforcement in order to ensure they had a clear understanding of the term "reasonable suspicion". Although most of the law was left intact, the U.S. Department of Justice wasted no time in contesting the now well-known four provisions.

For those supportive of immigration enforcement, the next chapter of the story is the upholding of the most controversial and key provision, section 2(B), which requires police to make a reasonable attempt, after a lawful stop, to check the immigration status of a person suspected to be in the country illegally. For those who support Obama's open-border efforts, the next chapter has a different twist — the ruling is a major win for the Obama administration.

The controversial provision is finally declared constitutional, and the police can now start checking immigration status after a lawful stop. However, checking the status requires a phone call to a federal agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). State police should not expect the federal agency to be responding to calls. The federal government has already announced they will only respond if an illegal has a felony on their record, has been removed from the United States previously and reentered unlawfully, or is a recent border crosser. So the majority of illegals will undoubtedly be released.

Moreover, a hotline has been set-up by the Justice Department for the public to report potential civil rights concerns regarding the state police and their enforcement of the Arizona law. This would allow the government to take Arizona back to court.

The administration wants enforcement to fail.

But a record will exist of every time Arizona contacts ICE about an illegal alien detained by local law enforcement. If the illegal alien commits a serious crime after the federal government refuses to take the individual into custody, forcing Arizona to release the illegal back out onto the streets, a national story will appear. Arizona can point directly at the Obama administration when playing the blame game.

Justice Kennedy's recognition that "Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration" is a huge understatement. But the frustration also extends to the Obama administration, which paints Arizona as the bad guy instead of reaching out to explore, in good faith, solutions for a state struggling with an economic and social state of emergency. Arizona has a $3 billion-plus debt and over a million residents on food stamps. The media cries out for illegal immigrants, but what about American citizens struggling to make ends meet? Who stands up for them?

With the fastest-growing illegal immigrant population in the country and with all the corresponding negative implications, it is unlikely that Arizona will cease fighting for a state role in immigration policy and enforcement under 2(B). The 68 percent public support rate for the Arizona law certainly makes the fight to discourage illegal immigration more effective.

As the Supreme Court sets the course for increased illegal immigration, the general public ponders why Congress sits by passively allowing another branch of the government to interpret the legislation they are unwilling to revisit, and why our federal and state governments can't stop playing politics long enough to ensure the safety and well-being of American citizens.