What's Next for Arizona?

By Steven A. Camarota on August 22, 2010

NYTimes.com, August 17, 2010

Tough Laws Work

Everyone agrees that Arizona has a huge illegal immigration problem. The government estimates nearly half a million illegal immigrants live in the state. My own research indicates that illegal immigrants account for one-third of state’s population lacking health insurance.

he state also spends roughly $2 billion a year on public education because of illegal immigration. Moreover, Americans who compete with illegal immigrants for jobs, those with no more than a high school education, have the highest rates of unemployment. In Arizona almost one in five of these less-educated Americans are out of work.

udge Bolton, by placing an injunction against Arizona’s new immigration law (SB 1070), basically thumbs her nose at the state and its concerns. While the injunction is temporary, the judge argues that the safeguards built into the law may not be sufficient to protect the rights of Arizonians.

This is despite the fact that SB 1070 allows police to inquire about immigration status only when they have a reasonable suspicion that a person is in the country illegally, and only as part of a traffic stop or arrest. Moreover, police are specifically barred from using race as a factor in applying the law. In addition, the state set up a training program for police to make sure the law is implemented in an unbiased fashion. But in the end the judge substituted her judgment for that of Arizona and its people.

While Judge Bolton's decision is a setback for immigration enforcement, it must be remembered that almost every new effort to reduce illegal immigration at the local, state or even the federal level are challenged in court. This injunction is just one step in a long process; it is only the beginning.

It is also worth noting that Arizona’s other important immigration law also had to wind its way through the courts. That law went into effect in 2008 and requires employers to verify that new hires are authorized to work in the United States using the government-provided E-Verify system. That law was also the subject of court challenges and demonstrations at the time, but it ultimately passed legal muster and went into effect. The Department of Homeland Security reports that the illegal immigrant population declined by 18 percent in Arizona between 2008 and 2009 compared to a 7 percent decline over the same period for the nation as a whole. It seems likely the 2008 law accounted for a significant share of that decline.

It seems clear that states have a role to play in immigration enforcement.