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The New Immigration Law

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Immigration law is a government policy that checks the movement of people in a particular country. Immigration laws govern the legal status of foreigners in matters like citizenship. These laws vary from one country to another and are determined by the political climate of a country and its state of security. Some nations maintain strict immigration laws, which are aimed at controlling the rights of entry and internal rights; for instance, the right to contribute in the affairs of a government, as well as duration of visit. A majority of nations have laws which select a process for naturalizing immigrants (Archibold). For example, the United States permits over one million foreigners every year to become its lawful permanent residents, making it the leading nation in the world to receive such a large number of people. Illegal immigration began in the U.S. in 1920s and emerged to be a huge crisis in the 1980s.

In 1875, a state law was passed that forbade the entry of prostitutes and criminals in the U.S. The law may have affected very few immigrants, but it marked the beginning of the division between legal and illegal immigrants. The largest immigration wave was witnessed between 1881 and 1920, in which 23.5 million immigrants entered the U.S. from various parts of the world (Archibold). Since then, people from all over the world have continued to travel to the U.S. to look for better opportunities in education, employment etc. However, after the 9/11 attack, immigration law in the United States became a very serious matter, and as a result, numerous immigration laws were enacted to control unlawful immigration (Archibold). This paper discusses the controversial new Arizona immigration law, the different reactions from its supporters and critics, as well as my opinion on the issue.

In April 2010, the Arizona Immigration Law (Law SB1070) took effect in Arizona State in the United States. The law, which was seen as the toughest immigration law in the history of the U.S., provoked a national debate with some people strongly opposing the law, while others supporting it (Reuters). According to SB1070, it is a criminal offense to harbor illegal immigrants; it also requires immigrants to carry their documents wherever they go. The law gives police officers the power to stop and ask persons about their immigration status when there is a reasonable suspicion that a person is in the U.S. illegally, in the course of their traffic stops, or other actions aimed at enforcing the law (Archibold).

The number of illegal immigrants in Arizona is estimated to be 460,000, and with the tough immigration law in place, it seems they have no choice but to return home. SB1070 is not only important because it involves the people of Arizona, but also because it affects the relationship of the U.S. with other countries, and consequently, its economy. Critics maintain that the law is discriminatory, targeting only Mexicans, and encourages racism and harassment of immigrants by the police (Archibold). Their arguments are backed by community activists who think that the new law will make documented immigrants in Arizona to dread dealing with police officers for fear of being harassed. No immigrant, whether documented or not, would want to call for police intervention, even when faced with serious security matters. There have been reports that documented immigrants are running away from Arizona because they fear undergoing racial profiling.

Supporters of the new immigration law, however, are saying that it will reduce crime in Arizona and create more employment opportunities for the citizens of America (Archibold). My opinion is that the safety of Arizona people and the U.S. as a whole should be given priority, and therefore, this law is intended to enforce security and reduce crimes in Arizona. Even those Mexicans that, as critics claim, are targeted by this immigration law also need to be safe while walking on the streets of Arizona.

I totally agree with the supporters of this law. As much as the law might seem harsh on illegal immigrants, the security and the needs of the Arizona people come first. Giving aliens the opportunity to work in Arizona to better their lives is a good thing, but allowing them to enter and stay in the U.S. illegally is very risky, since not all immigrants have good intentions. On the other hand, not all unlawful immigrants are bad, and therefore, they should not be blamed for the violence that is happening in Arizona (Beard). But the fact still remains that the U.S. is among the most powerful nations in the world, and it cannot take for granted its national security, especially after the 9/11 attack, and that is why Arizona State is not taking chances with the security of its people. Seemingly, the Obama administration is more concerned with revival of the U.S. economy and does not give more priority to immigration laws; therefore the Arizona legislature was right in passing the law to protect the Arizona state from its high crime rate.

The new Arizona Immigration Law is a controversial topic that has divided people in the U.S. into two distinct groups: with one group supporting the law, while the other opposing it. Supporters argue that there has been increased violence in the border regions of Arizona, as evident by the killing of Robert Krentz, a Cochise County rancher, close to a Mexican border by a drug smuggler (Wagner). In addition, two police officers based in Phoenix were murdered by illegal immigrants in 2007, and in 2010, a deputy sheriff was injured in a gun battle by males that were alleged to be drug smugglers from Mexico City. These incidents increased a negative public perception of Arizona, with the national media depicting the region as a border for bloodshed (Wagner). The proponents of SB 1070 have cited rates of incarceration, as an indication that undocumented immigrants are contributing to the high crime rate in Arizona. Varying statistics have been reported on the number of imprisoned illegal immigrants. For instance, Jack Harris, the Phoenix Police Chief, stated that illegal immigrants constitute 10% of the arrests in his department; a number that is near to the percentage of unlawful immigrants in the U.S. Statistics from Maricopa County sheriff's office (it runs prison for Phoenix and neighboring cities), however, reported that undocumented immigrants constitute 20% of its inmates (Wagner). Proponents of the law are strongly convinced that criminals from Mexico are increasingly entering the U.S. via Arizona, thus increasing insecurity in the country.

However, according to the sheriff of Pima County, Dupnik, the insecurity issue at the Arizona border was a media creation. In fact, he said that the border is more secure now than before (Wagner). Dupnik’s opinion was confirmed by the recent study, which found out that the numbers of immigrants who engage in crime in Arizona are fewer compared to nationals of the state. Since the 1990s when illegal immigrants began pouring in Arizona, there has been a general decrease in crime in the state; for instance, in 1995, the rate of property crimes reduced to 43%. Some critics of the Arizona immigration law are in agreement with their counterparts who support the law with regards to illegal immigrants committing fewer crimes. Nonetheless, they maintain that public safety is their main drive for supporting the law.

The executive director of the Arizona Police Assn., Mr. Brian Livingston, who was previously opposed to the law, said that he changed his mind, following complaints from a Latina that illegal immigrants engaging in criminal activities in her neighborhood were not being arrested. Though he admitted that illegal immigrants come to the U.S. for a good course (seeking better life or fleeing violence in Mexico), he was quick to point out that there are criminal elements among immigrants, and they are the main target of the new law i.e. the smugglers who prey good people from Mexico (Wagner).

Currently, Phoenix has developed into a center of human trafficking, and its escalating crime rate is similar to other main cities in Mexico. Over 240 cases of kidnapping and human smuggling were reported in Phoenix in 2008 alone. This shows just how insecure the state of Arizona is, and only the enforcement of a stringent law, such as the SB1070, will help bring safety to the state, and the U.S. in general (Archibold). It has been reported that illegal immigrants in Arizona sell grenades in the black market. However, Jack Harris, the Phoenix Police Chief, disagreed with this report saying that the criminality of illegal immigrants in Arizona was being exaggerated. Harris refuted the notion that getting rid of illegal immigrants will lead to a significant reduction in crime in Arizona, dismissing the argument as a political opportunism (Archibold).

Civil rights activist groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, termed the new Arizona immigration law unconstitutional. Other people who have joined in the protests against the new Arizona immigration laws are music celebrities such as Lady Gaga, who, while addressing a gathering at the U.S. Airways Center, said that she would join hands with others to hold a peaceful protest against the law (Sacks). Even President Obama said that the law is misguided, promising that it will be looked into by the Justice Department. He said that the fact that the law necessitates aliens to carry their documents wherever they go puts them at risk of being harassed by the police, and that is not the right approach to tackling insecurity issues in the U.S.

I totally disagree with those who oppose this law, who have maintained that the law is inhuman and encourages racism. I still maintain that the law is well-intentioned and is meant to protect the Arizona people from insecurity risks. It is important to note that other nations in the world have similar documentation prerequisites as Arizona. What Arizona did was merely adding a state punishment to what is already a state crime in the U.S. It has been a crime for foreigners in the U.S. to fail to keep their documents with them; therefore, the Arizona immigration law is nothing new; it is just an enforcement of the existing immigration law. In addition, some people argue that the law encourages racial profiling. According to Lourdes Medrano, an opponent of the law, racial profiling is illegal not only in the U.S., but also in Arizona (Archibold). He argues that the law permits police officials to stop and ask persons about their immigration status when there is a reasonable suspicion that a person is in the U.S. illegally, and he wonders what criteria the police would use in their assessment to determine who is an illegal immigrant. He maintains that not every illegal immigrant in the U.S. is involved in criminal activities, and that they greatly contribute to the development of the U.S. economy, and sending them away will negatively impact on the U.S. economy. This is because the jobs the illegal immigrants do are those rejected by the American citizens, yet they are very important to the U.S. economy (Archibold).

I do not agree with the argument that the law encourages racial profiling; in fact, Section 2 of the Arizona Immigration law clearly states that the police cannot exclusively consider color, race or nationality to determine the immigration status of people, or to make traffic stops. Therefore, I think that this law actually prevents racial harassment by the police, because it requires officers to get in touch with the federal government immediately when they suspect that a person is illegally in the U.S., rather than arresting them based on their own evaluation (Spakovsky).

Some critics of the law argue that it is unfair for the law to demand that aliens carry their driving license wherever they go. This claim is not true; the Arizona immigration law does not require anyone to carry a driver’s license, be it a U.S. national or an alien. Since, only legal residents of Arizona are given licenses, a police officer assumes that a foreigner with a driving license is legally in the U.S., and therefore, he or she is given a free pass at stop points, regardless of their immigration status (Archibold).

Though critics claim that the law is unconstitutional since immigration is a responsibility of the federal government, and that Arizona State has no mandate to enforce such a law, I totally disagree. I admit that Washington DC hold the key authority when it comes to matters of immigration, but it is also important to note that since 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that the federal law should not prevent states from ratifying laws that are aimed at discouraging unlawful immigration. As long as the U.S. Congress has not outlawed this statute, then Arizona is right to implement such a law. That is why the U.S. Court of Appeal (Ninth Circuit) sustained the Arizona law in 2007, which made it unlawful to intentionally employ unauthorized foreigners in Arizona (Archibold).

Supporters of the Arizona immigration law say that the law tackles the immigration issue better when compared to the federal government. According to statistics by the U.S. Border Patrol, close to 50% of seizures of illegal immigrants take place in Arizona. President Obama said in the recent past that his government will focus on illegal immigrants engaged in criminal activities, and that it is the responsibility of the Department of Justice to handle immigration, as opposed to state governments (Markon). My question is: what if the Department of Justice is reluctant in carrying out its duty, will the individual states faced with high crime rates such as Arizona sit back and do nothing? Certainly not, that is why I support the new immigration law. Arizona State is simply taking responsibility for its people’s welfare and security.

Immigration law in any country is intended to govern the migration of people. In an attempt to seek for greener pastures, foreigners go to nations deemed to have better opportunities either by legal means or illegally. Increased insecurity issues especially the 9/11 attack, led the U.S. Government to enact stringent immigration laws to check the legal status of immigrants. Arizona State, especially Phoenix, has grown to be a hub for illegal immigration, and consequently, crime rates in that city have increased tremendously (Archibold). In response to the growing insecurity and crime, the Arizona legislature enacted the Arizona immigration law, a law which provoked varied opinions from the public. While critics maintain that the law is discriminatory and encourages racism, its supporters argue that the law will ensure public safety. I absolutely support the law, because public safety should be a priority of any caring nation. But since the Obama administration is more concerned with reviving the U.S. economy at the expense of insecurity caused by illegal immigrants, the Arizona legislature was right to enact the law to get rid of the illegal immigrants, who have been associated with the increased crime rate in that state.  

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