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Jul. 24 2010 - 12:11 am | 562 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Southwest governors square off on immigration

This week, a district court judge in Phoenix heard arguments for and against SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, which makes it a state crime to be in Arizona without citizenship or residency papers.

Meanwhile, Govs. Janice Brewer of Arizona, and Bill Richardson of New Mexico, debated the propriety of states creating and enforcing their own immigration policies (as SB 1070 does for Arizona) in the pages of the upcoming issue of Americas Quarterly.

It’s still not available online, but the journal’s issue features a side-by-side detailed exposition, written by each Brewer and Richardson, about why they’re on opposite sides of the immigration debate on this score. It’s a nice summation of where these two governors stand on immigration. Their states may be next-door neighbors but they definitely don’t see eye-to-eye.

Richardson believes that states should not legislate their own immigration policies, to avoid creating a patchwork quilt of such laws, or worse, as he puts it– creating a kind of immigration “arms race among neighbors.” Brewer, meanwhile, thinks that in the face of federal inaction, states have no choice but to get tough on illegal immigration.

What’s striking about Brewer’s stance is the extent to which she uses organized crime, mainly the  threat posed by Mexican drug cartels along the border, to justify Arizona’s move to make illegal immigration a crime on the state level. She writes:

Because of Washington’s failure to secure our southern border, Arizona has become the superhighway for illegal drug and human smuggling activity. In December 2008, the U.S. Justice Department said that Mexican gangs are the “biggest organized crime threat to the United States.” In 2009, Phoenix had 316 kidnapping cases, turning the city into our nation’s kidnapping capital.

Although crime as a whole does not seem to be a problem in the border states, despite all these nightmare stories, Gov. Richardson of New Mexico knows that it is not necessarily overall statistics, but anecdotally spectacular crimes and incidents, which attract public attention. And so he widely does not soft-pedal the issue, but shares New Mexico’s own strategies against cross-border crime, which, notably, did not include legislating immigration:

In 2005, I declared a state border emergency as a result of violence, damage to property and livestock, and increased drug smuggling near the New Mexico border town of Columbus. That emergency declaration freed up state money to pay for local law enforcement and a National Guard presence at the border to supplement the Border Patrol, which has primary responsibility for enforcement of federal immigration laws.

Working “collectively” with agencies in the United States and Mexico, and calling on both governments to take action, Richardson says, “is a much more productive way to to address the need for immigration reform than enacting a hodge-podge of state laws.”

Interestingly, both governors agree on one thing: that the federal government’s inaction (both of them decry Washington, D.C.’s failure to act) lie at the source of the southwest’s struggle to figure out which way to go on immigration.

SB 1070, which was signed into law by Gov. Brewer on April 23, authorizes police in Arizona to investigate suspects’ immigration status. It’s the first time a state puts such a law on its books (although other states make it a state crime for an undocumented immigrant to solicit work, or for anyone to knowingly transport anyone who entered the country illegally).

It’s not clear whether the judge, Susan Bolton, will issue a ruling before July 29, when the law is set to go into effect.

The U.S. Justice Department’s argument against the law, which Judge Bolton heard this week, is that it encroaches on the federal government’s supreme constitutional right to make the country’s immigration policy. Other organizations, including the ACLU, also filed briefs in an effort to stop the law.


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    About Me

    Readers, thanks for your eyeball time, please send tips, corrections, complaints, rants, etc. My email is ballve [at] gmail.com. I was born in Buenos Aires and raised there and in Atlanta, Mexico City and Caracas. I've written and reported on Latin America for almost a dozen years. I started out as an Associated Press reporter and editor in the agency’s Brazil and Caribbean bureaus. In 2007 I co-founded El Sol de San Telmo, a community newspaper in Buenos Aires. I am now a contributing editor for the nonprofit New America Media, Americas correspondent for Amsterdam-based Research World magazine (publication of the international association of market and public opinion researchers), and a 2010-2011 Lemann Fellow at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).

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      Since 2002 I have been a contributing editor at New America Media, where I write about Latin America and the politics of immigration in the United States.

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      Wax Poetics issue #36, with my essay on Brazilian singer-songwriter Jards Macalé.

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