Nation, Arizona have a choice to make

Much has been said about Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, allowing state law enforcement officials to stop, question, detain and report individuals based on suspicion of undocumented status. Outrage against this bill is pervasive. Some say it hearkens back to Jim Crow, others say it legalizes racial profiling.  

We understand Arizona’s itch to initiate immigration reform given its estimated 460,000 undocumented immigrants, exposure to cross-border drug and gun traffic and frustration with feds foregoing legislation for decades. There are four glaring reasons, however, why this approach is grossly misguided. 

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First, the constitutionality of SB 1070 is dubious. The key legal issue, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Immigration Law Center – all of whom are challenging the law’s constitutionality – is whether Arizona’s state law interferes with the U.S. government’s duty to handle immigration. This is exactly what sunk Proposition 187, a similar initiative in California.  

Proposition 187 was a ballot initiative passed in 1994 and designed to prohibit undocumented immigrants from accessing social services, healthcare and public education. It was found unconstitutional by a federal court on the grounds that regulation of immigration is a federal responsibility. Arizona might soon find, too, that federal law preempts its immigration laws. Already, an Arizona police officer has filed a lawsuit against the bill and Department of Justice Attorney General Holder is suggesting injunctive relief in federal court to prohibit the enforcement of the Arizona statute. Legal precedent alone should be sufficient to shut this bill down based on unconstitutionality.  

Second, Arizona’s attempt to fix immigration is financially unsound.  Imagine if the U.S. followed Arizona’s footsteps and sent new immigrants packing. (It’s hard to imagine who sends whom packing as we all immigrated at some point in recent history). Rather than giving immigrants a clear path to legal citizenship – because immigrants who become citizens pursue higher-paying jobs and higher education, thus spending more and providing higher tax revenue – imagine sending all undocumented immigrants home. The cost to our economy would be crippling, with losses of $2.6 trillion in gross domestic product during the next 10 years.  

Conversely, a commitment to comprehensive reform would net our economy $1.5 trillion over the same period. (This is UCLA data and well proven.) By signing SB 1070, Arizona’s governor thinks she is saving jobs and helping the local economy. The opposite is true. She will run the state further into debt. Arizona already faces one of the most severe state budget crises in America, spending roughly $10.1 billion while collecting only $6.4 billion in revenues.

Third, SB 1070 is ineffective in accomplishing its super-ordinate goal.  By treating undocumented immigrants as criminals, it ensures that immigrants without papers stay far from police. This makes it far more difficult for police to do their work, which is why Arizona’s Sahuarita Police Chief John Harris, on behalf of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, came out against the bill. And why Harris and Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik voiced concerns about the law’s vague provisions allowing citizens to sue officials for failing to enforce the bill, putting pressure on police to undertake racial profiling. Either way, this law allows for ample abuse, sends hard-working immigrants into the shadows and undermines the relationship between local law enforcement and the community.  

Fourth, the tenor of Arizona’s law takes our nation backward, not forward. With this bill, we are going further from American ideals.   Consider the Japanese internment camps post-WWII, in which Rep. Honda was raised, where we dehumanized an entire race that had recently arrived and was actively contributing to our economy.   

We have, since then, seen an increase in the freedoms on which this country was founded, from civil rights to women’s rights. This push toward further freedoms must continue. We do that by ensuring that newly arrived immigrants are afforded the same rights and responsibilities as the immigrants who came before them, including a legal path to citizenship.

If Arizona forgets the forbearance and foresight of our founding fathers, then let boycotts become the bearer of bad economic news for Arizona. Already, state and federal officials are calling for boycotts. Boycotts work, and like the African-American civil rights movement that shocked the South with its nonviolent protests, so, too, will the public rise up against Arizona’s draconian legislation. 

In the anticipation that Arizona will not be able to save itself, it is absolutely essential that the U.S. Senate move fast to reform immigration. We cannot afford piecemeal approaches state-by-state, nor can we financially afford at the federal level the continued non-citizenship of 12 million undocumented immigrants. It is time we brought these newly arrived immigrants into the light. Not for the purpose of deporting them Arizona-style, but to bring them closer to citizenship American-style.

Honda  is the chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Dawson is an actress and co-founder of Voto Latino.