Arizona’s New Law Upends Federal Priorities

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Yesterday, a federal judge began to hear arguments on Arizona law SB1070. One of the problems with SB1070 is that it places the federal government in an impossible situation. While the proponents of SB1070 say that Arizona will help ICE enforce immigration laws, the fact is that it would impinge upon ICE’s ability to fulfill its mandate, set enforcement priorities, and allocate resources effectively. SB1070 would inundate DHS with requests to determine the immigration status of individuals police have arrested for suspicion of being unlawfully present. If ICE determines that the individual is indeed unlawfully present, ICE would be expected to take custody of him/her and place him/her in deportation proceedings. Friday, IPC released a new fact check on how Arizona’s new law interferes with federal enforcement priorities.

Furthermore, through the 287(g) program, Secure Communities, and the Criminal Alien Program, ICE would screen all people booked into Arizona jails and convicted of crimes. ICE would then be expected to take custody of those immigrants charged with or convicted of these state crimes and place them in deportation proceedings.

In other words, Arizona would supply ICE with a huge number of people to deal with – most of them charged with or convicted of very minor offenses. While proponents of the law would say that this is the very purpose of the law, it actually strains ICE’s resources and harms their ability to prioritize the immigrants they target.

ICE already has its hands full, and it has developed enforcement priorities to help deal with its huge mandate. Currently there are 10-11 million unauthorized immigrants, countless legal immigrants who are deportable for serious and minor criminal offenses, and many employers breaking the law by employing unauthorized workers.

Congress has mandated that ICE prioritize the deportation of immigrants who pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety, and those with criminal histories. So ICE principally targets immigrants engaged in or suspected of terrorism or espionage; immigrants convicted of crimes (with a particular emphasis on violent criminals, felons, and repeat offenders); gang members; and those subject to outstanding criminal warrants.

ICE has created a three-tiered priority system to allow them to evaluate each individual and take action on the highest priorities. Those immigrants charged with or convicted of serious crimes such as murder, rape, or kidnapping receive the highest priority, while immigrants charged with or convicted of less serious crimes are lower priority, and ICE takes action on them as their resources allow.

The crimes created by the Arizona law fall into the lowest priority. In essence, Arizona would be asking ICE to respond to all of Arizona’s requests and take custody of countless individuals who are not serious threats to the country and who have not committed serious crimes. This means that ICE would have fewer resources to deal with serious criminals, terrorists, and other priority individuals.

According to former INS Commissioner Doris Meissner:

[S]ince SB1070 does not, and cannot, distinguish among ICE-established priorities of targeted categories of aliens, Arizona’s verification requests would be likely to encompass those who have committed minor violations under Arizona law, and those simply suspected of such offenses – potentially at the expense of pursuing more serious criminal aliens, both in Arizona and in other states. Furthermore, SB1070 would not only conflict with federal priorities, but would also put Arizona in a position to dictate priorities for immigration enforcement to ICE and the federal government, which is contrary to our existing federal system. The effect would be to force ICE to respond to reports of civil immigration status violations over all other priorities, with the likely outcome of overwhelming carefully calibrated strategies for meeting federal statutory mandates within the bounds of budgetary constraints.

michelle-waslinIn other words, if Arizona’s intention was to “help” the federal government do its job, it has failed. SB1070 unfairly hijacks federal priorities and resources at the expense of our safety and security.

Michele Waslin

Republished with permission from Immigration Impact.

Published by the LA Progressive on July 24, 2010
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About Michele Waslin

Michele Waslin, Ph.D., is the Senior Policy Analyst at the Immigration Policy Center. She has authored several publications on immigration policy and post-9/11 immigration issues. Ms. Waslin appears regularly in English and Spanish-language media. Previously, she worked as Director of Immigration Policy Research at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and Policy Coordinator at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. She received her Ph.D. in 2002 in Government and International Studies from the University of Notre Dame, and holds an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in Political Science from Creighton University. (mwaslin@ailf.org)