Friday, May 7, 2010




These days, the Grand Canyon State is the place to go if you’re looking for the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

Not only is Arizona state government just as broke as California’s, but foreclosure rates are higher and unemployment almost as high.

So it came as no big surprise when lawmakers there screwed up the illegal immigration issue, too, their action quickly making immigration law changes a top priority for President Obama. That happened when Arizona, home to the nation’s highest proportion of illegal immigrants, last month adopted America's most draconian law on their treatment.

“Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others,” Obama said. “That includes…the recent efforts in Arizona.” The president plainly knows several other Republican-dominated states are thinking of copying Arizona’s action.

Sentiment against illegal immigration runs even higher among Arizona voters than among Californians. Feelings are also strong among that state’s lawmakers, who easily passed a measure called SB 1070 that demands a far tougher crackdown than what Californians authorized when they passed Proposition 187 in 1994.

The California measure, quickly squelched by the federal courts, aimed to deny illegal immigrants virtually all public services, including schooling and most emergency room care. Proposition 187 passed with a 60 percent yes vote, not far below the 70 percent of Arizona voters the polls say favor its new law.

The Arizona measure contains one provision harsher that anything contemplated by Proposition 187’s sponsors. Even after a few amendments to soften it a bit, the law requires police to demand proof of citizenship from anyone they contact in the normal course of business who might be an illegal immigrant. Proof can be a driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, green card or Indian tribal identification. The standard for demanding documents: “reasonable suspicion,” whatever that means.

Police officers who fail to act can be sued.

Despite many disclaimers and denials, those provisions essentially demand racial profiling. Contrary to protestations from Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the measure, anyone with even a slightly swarthy complexion will likely be questioned about citizenship in any encounter with police. That leads many native-born U.S. citizens to feel they now must carry proof of citizenship whenever they leave home.

It’s as clear-cut a violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution as there could be. That amendment promises “equal protection of the law” to all citizens – even if their complexions are olive colored or light brown. The onus is on those stopped to prove their legal status, not on the police to show they’re undocumented -- another constitutional problem.

Even before Brewer signed this law, Obama pronounced it a “threat to basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.”

The onetime constitutional law professor not only promised to sic the Justice Department on SB 1070, but immediately began pushing for congressional action on immigration reform that would include some sort of path to citizenship for illegals, something many activists label “amnesty” no matter what onerous conditions might come with it. Among Obama’s post-health care priorities, immigration suddenly moved up into at least a tie with climate change legislation.

Which means the Arizona lawmakers have probably done more to advance the cause of amnesty than anyone else in years.

Arizona’s legislative geniuses shot themselves in the foot in other ways, too. Besides fighting illegal immigration, their other stated top cause is job creation to fix their state’s high unemployment rate.

There’s no evidence the new law will create any jobs, but it may eliminate some, if the many calls since its passage for business, convention and tourism (read: baseball spring training) boycotts draw much response. For sure, it rang alarm bells among hoteliers, who employ 200,000 persons in Arizona.

California is the largest source of tourists for Arizona, and cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles are now actively considering boycotts. Conventions slated for Arizona immediately began booking elsewhere, too, as they did years ago when Arizona was the last holdout against recognizing the Martin Luther King holiday.

The lawmakers also often worry aloud about budgets. No one yet has made a reliable estimate of this law’s overall costs, but there are clues in a fact sheet issued by Yuma County Sheriff Ralph Ogden in response to a similar 2006 bill that was eventually vetoed by Janet Napolitano, then the Arizona governor and now U.S. homeland security secretary.

Ogden said arresting and processing prisoners would cost police agencies in his border county between $775,000 and $1.2 million per year. Jail costs would be at least $21 million, he added, with a minimum of another $800,000 going to attorneys. Plus, the county would need new detention facilities, cost unknown. That’s just for one smallish county.

The bottom line: If prospects improve soon for a major shift in federal immigration policy, much of the blame – or credit – should go to Arizona’s feckless state Legislature.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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