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Hey, I was just about to enforce that! How Arizona forced the federal government to do something about illegal immigration… sort of.
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The Obama Administration is filing suit against Arizona for its new illegal immigration law.  As far as I can tell from skimming the Arizona State Senate Bill, the purpose of the bill is to enforce the existing federal immigration laws.  So, the “Arizona immigration law” is really just a declaration by Arizona as to how it will enforce federal immigration laws.

Ultimately, this means three things:  First, the Arizona legislature does not feel that the federal government is doing an adequate job of enforcing its own immigration laws; Second, Arizona has determined that it should do its best to enforce the federal immigration laws within the state; Third, the federal government, instead of enforcing its own immigration laws, will sue Arizona for trying to enforce the federal immigration laws.

The issue has been hot and cold for many years now, but no progress has really been made in all that time.  My guess was that Arizona had identified illegal immigration as a real problem, but that the problem was too expensive to fix on its own.  Also, Arizona’s border is also the US border, so they figured the US should kick in to help protect it.

Here’s a summary of the bizarre pieces of this situation:

  • The US Constitution gives Congress the authority to make laws.
  • Article I, Section 8 – Powers of Congress: “To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States…”
  • Congress has made laws regarding immigration and naturalization.
  • Here is a good summary of Immigration Law from a 2006 paper from the Congressional Budget Office.
  • The Federal Government has even created an agency – the CBP – to enforce those laws.
  • CBP Wikipedia Page
  • Specifically, the President is tasked with taking care that the laws be faithfully executed.
  • Article II,  Section 3 – State of the Union, Convening Congress:   “…he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed…”
  • The Laws are not being executed (either by the CBP or the President).
  • This is mostly anecdotal, but I think it can be implicitly confirmed by the general public consensus that something needs to be done about illegal immigration. The debates over the past several years have focused on what to do about it, not on whether it’s a problem.
  • The US Constitution says that the States’ judges are bound by the US Constitution and federal laws.
  • Article VI – Debts, Supremacy, Oaths:  “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” (If the States were NOT to enforce immigration Federal laws, I assume it would be stated in Article I, Section 10 – Power prohibited to the States. There is no such statement in Article I, Section 10.)
  • Arizona passed a law whose stated intent is to enforce federal immigration law as completely as possible.
  • Arizona HB2162: “No official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may limit or restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.”
  • The Federal Government, which is not enforcing the immigration laws as it has been tasked to do, is suing Arizona for passing a law stating that it will enforce the federal law as completely as possible.

When the story about the Arizona immigration law first hit the mainstream, I immediately suspected it was an attempt to goad the federal government into action on the illegal immigration issue:

  • @DanielPAnderson said: “@JoshDoody I’m curious as to what you think about what is happening in Arizona with regards to the immigration bill?”
  • I replied (Part 1, Part 2): “I don’t know much about it. My gut says illegal immigration is a prob. Fed isn’t dealing with it. Border states are disproportionately affected by the issue and they’re mad. I think they may be trying to goad fed into action.”

Arizona was basically saying, “Well, we tried doing everything through diplomatic channels and several consecutive presidential administrations have ignored us, so we’re going to try something a little more direct to see if we can get some action out of the federal government.” I don’t think they anticipated this kind of action, but it isn’t necessarily a bad result for them.  If the federal government is going to sue Arizona for its new immigration law, it should also be willing to finally do something about the issue.

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  1. From what I understand of the situation (which isn’t much, I admit), you’re dead on and were 20 months ago. A lot of people were confused by both the president and the governor of Arizona claiming victory after the Supreme Court verdict on Monday, but it makes perfect sense. With this legislation, Arizona sought to either alert the government that the problem is a massive one/the current status quo isn’t working OR to take matters into its own hands. Regardless of the verdict, it was going to be a win-win for Arizona (either they get to enforce it or they prove that the government isn’t doing its job). The rest of the country can sit back and debate the merits of the bill, but we’re not tasked with hundreds of thousands of people crossing into our state and shaking up the infrastructure. Bush put tons of effort into clamping down on the Yuma border, and it worked. Unfortunately, that means even more immigrants are abusing the weaknesses in Arizona’s other major borders. The federal government is going to step in and take over once again, but I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon because of the general election.


  2. I agree that immigration isn’t going to be a big issue during election season. People don’t care as much about that (or anything else) as they do the economy. It’s telling that the Administration has done virtually nothing on immigration during this term… except for suing Arizona.