LOCAL VIEW: Arizona law result of federal failures
POLITICS OF IMMIGRATION
By BRIAN P. BILBRAY — U.S. House Immigration Reform Caucus
Critics of immigration reform have been up in arms over Arizona’s decision to implement the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” or state Senate Bill 1070, into law. What the critics fail to recognize is that the state has been forced to act on illegal immigration because the federal government, who is constitutionally responsible for immigration enforcement, has failed to address this problem on its own.
When Washington fails in its responsibilities, states have a right and a responsibility to take action in order to protect their communities. The failure of the federal government to provide immigration reform, or even to pay for federal mandates, makes it no better than a deadbeat dad who provides no assistance or direction to a child. Now we, the citizens, must pay the price for unsecured borders, higher unemployment, increased prices and new taxes for health care, public safety, education and social services.
In Washington, there are two sides to the immigration debate. On one hand there is the moderate bipartisan drive to fix our broken immigration system. The best and most recent example of this was in 2007 when Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., was joined by 157 of his colleagues in the 110th Congress, including members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus, to introduce the Secure America with Verification and Enforcement Act (the SAVE Act, or H.R. 4088) which targeted the root of our national immigration problem: American employers who exploit cheap and illegal labor.
The SAVE Act aimed to roll out the successful E-Verify program on a national level, strengthen our borders and decrease the production of fraudulent documents.
On the other side of the debate, there is a small partisan group unwilling to cooperate on any effort to fix our broken immigration system if amnesty is not part of the package. In other words, if we don’t reward nearly 20 million illegal immigrants with citizenship or amnesty (ahead of those who are attempting to immigrate legally) no reform of any type can take place.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her pro-amnesty group of partisan lawmakers are holding our nation hostage from moving forward on any other solution. In most cities, this is called extortion; in Washington it is the speaker’s political game that has lead to Arizona taking matters into its own hands.
And what has Arizona done? A closer look at the legislation shows that the state is only allowing law enforcement to enforce laws already on the books. Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act became a federal law in 1995 and allows state and local law enforcement to detain those who have violated our immigration laws. The critics who complained two years ago when Arizona went after illegal employers are the same people who today complain that enforcing existing law equates to fascism. They want you to believe that this law means the end of civil rights.
Civil rights is an issue far larger than illegal immigration. Due to the importance of maintaining civil rights, law enforcement personnel are already trained on professional standards of interaction, how to identify suspicious behavior and what constitutes responsibility when it is time to enforce the law —- no matter one’s nationality.
When it comes to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s Executive Order (E.O. 2010-09) that mandates strict new civil rights training for all law enforcement professionals, Arizona’s critics are silent.
It remains to be seen whether Arizona’s new illegal immigration measure will be effective, but the question of whether or not it was necessary in the first place can only be addressed by admitting that Washington has failed to live up to its responsibility to pass a measure of its own.
We can no longer afford to be held hostage by the radical pro-amnesty crowd. American employers who exploit cheap and illegal labor are the problem at the heart of our nation’s illegal immigration problem; rewarding upwards of 20 million illegal immigrants with amnesty is not the solution.
The good news is that we have the tools, and the right legislation in the SAVE Act, to move forward —- and we are willing to push it again. Rep. Shuler and I have reintroduced the SAVE Act in this current 111th Congress (as H.R. 3308), and by doing so we have given the federal government another chance to live up to its responsibility on illegal immigration.
It is time to end the partisanship, stop holding America hostage and move forward, as one Congress and as one nation, to truly address illegal immigration once and for all. The people of Arizona and America deserve no less.
BRIAN P. BILBRAY is the chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus in the U.S. House. He represents the 50th District, which includes large portions of North County.
This op-ed originally ran on Sunday, May 9th, 2010 in San Diego’s North County Times and can be viewed at http://www.nctimes.com/news/opinion/perspective/article_b4bdf68a-1a7c-5bd2-bb64-77cc5ca4cc23.html