Wade through opinions to get all of the facts

During the last several weeks, there has been a constant stream of media reports and commentary over how the State of Arizona intends to enforce its new law to respond to the challenges posed by illegal immigration. Almost everyone has an opinion on the subject, regardless of how well informed they may or may not be. Even the Obama administration has jumped into the fray with the assurance that they will scrutinize the new law with an eye towards a possible court challenge. In fact, the attorney general, the secretary of homeland security, and the assistant secretary of state for public affairs have all expressed their opinion on the matter. While one should not question the depth of the feelings held by these officials, the fact that not one of them had actually read the Arizona law before commenting on it reveals motivations that may not be entirely connected with facts. As the former attorney general of California, I would suggest — particularly with respect to Attorney General Holder — that before federal officials speak of possible litigation, facts actually matter when you get to court.  

The odd thing about all of this is that the story relates to criticism by federal officials that a separate sovereign is seeking to assist them in enforcing the legal principle that if you enter the United States through Arizona, you must have done so legally. State and local law enforcement have a critical role to play in the enforcement of our immigration laws, which relates not just to the protection of their own citizens but also to our nation.  To borrow from another context, the thousands of police officers, sheriffs, and other local officials serve as a “force multiplier” with respect to federal law enforcement objectives.  There is perhaps no better example of this than the fact that four of the 19 hijackers had encounters with local police prior to 9/11. The national interest is best served with an abandonment of the parochial notion that “Washington always knows best.”

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There is an old adage in the law that “if the law is not on your side, argue the facts. If the facts are not on your side, argue the law. If neither the law nor the facts are on your side, just argue.” We can do better than that. Go to the Arizona Governor’s website at  http://www.azgovernor.gov/ and download the statute so that you can decide for yourself what you think about it. Good and decent people can disagree about this issue. However, we should all be able to agree on one thing – we are entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts.  

Ironically, the Obama administration and this Congress have the power to resolve this controversy over the Arizona law. Were it not for the failure of the federal government to address the problem of illegal immigration, Arizona would never have been put in the position of having to take such action to protect its citizens. It adds insult to injury for the federal government to fail in its responsibility and then to criticize a separate sovereign for seeking to remedy that failure.

The discussion must shift from veiled threats of lawsuits and comprehensive immigration reform that is simply not going to happen in an environment where the unemployment rate is 9.7 percent and the number of those who have given up looking for work is even higher. On this same page on Feb. 3, 2010, I argued that Congress must enact an enforcement first immigration policy. Four months later, in the absence of any substantive action by the administration or Congress, I would repeat that the major flaw in existing law is the absence of a workable employment verification system in the employer sanctions framework. As a starting point we should begin with a consideration of the E-Verify system. There are different proposals out there that should be getting the attention of Congress. Although we might decide to address the immediate challenge with intermediate measures, it is my conviction that our ultimate objective must be to adopt a biometric identification system.

Although I generally have rejected the notion of litmus tests throughout my career in public service, I believe that we should apply one here. I simply can’t take anyone seriously who criticizes the Arizona statute who will not at the same time acknowledge the immediate need for enacting enforcement measures specifically addressed to thwarting the flow of illegal immigration.  

Lungren serves as Ranking Member on the House Administration Committee in addition to serving on the Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees.