Immigration Reform at the Forefront Again

The enactment of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law has prompted President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to move comprehensive immigration reform to the top of their agenda.

The new law which is considered to be the harshest in the nation was signed by Governor Jan Brewer last April 24. It requires police officers to stop people that they reasonably suspect are unlawfully present in the U.S. and ask them for their immigration documents. Failure to carry immigration documents will subject an individual to criminal penalties.

Before the law was signed, President Obama criticized it as “misguided” and contrary to “basic notions of fairness”. He instructed the Justice Department to “examine the civil rights and other implications of the law.”

But Governor Brewer, despite the overwhelming number of callers asking her to veto the bill said that the law “represents another tool for our state to use as we work to solve a crisis we did not create and the federal government has refused to fix.”

By putting the blame on Washington’s failure to reform our broken immigration system, Governor Brewer has forced a renewed national debate on the issue. President Obama underscored the urgency when he said that, “Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others.”

But comprehensive immigration reform legislation will not be easy to pass. Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been working with Senator Charles Schumer on a draft of a Senate immigration bill protested the sudden rush to take up immigration and derailing the climate bill that he and Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman have been planning to introduce. “Moving forward on immigration in this hurried, panicked manner is nothing more than a cynical political ploy,” he said.

Republican leaders in the Senate have also pledged to block immigration reform. Senator Mitch McConnell said that this is not the time to take up the issue while Senator Saxby Chambliss said that other issues pending in Congress must be tackled first.

Eleven Republican senators were in favor of immigration reform during the Bush administration when it passed the Senate. It is not clear how much support it has now. Senator John McCain who co-authored a bill with Senator Ted Kennedy a few years ago is no longer advocating for reform. In fact, he supported the Arizona bill hours before its approval by the Arizona Senate as he faces a tough reelection fight.

Meanwhile, the new law has sparked widespread protests. Mass rallies have been held almost daily in Arizona and in other states since the passage of the law. Several groups have called for an economic boycott. The City Attorney and the members of the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco have proposed not to do business with Arizona.

Lawsuits are being planned. Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the federal government may challenge the new law in court. The American Civil Liberties Union also said that civil rights organizations are already preparing their suits.

Many constitutional scholars say that the federal government, not the states, is in charge of controlling immigration and enforcing immigration laws. Moreover, the new law according to them violates the guarantees of due process and equal protection and the provision against warrantless arrest.

The immigrant community must join those who have expressed their outrage against this latest threat to their fundamental freedoms. At the same time, they must participate in the many mass actions that are being scheduled in several states to push for immigration reform.