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The Unhappy Anniversary Of Arizona's Anti-Immigrant Law

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The Unhappy Anniversary Of Arizona's Anti-Immigrant Law

Just as supporters of Arizona's anti-immigration law (SB 1070) were set to celebrate its first anniversary on April 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals blocked the enforcement of many of parts of the law. The court struck down the provisions requiring law enforcement officers to make a reasonable effort to verify the immigration status of individuals they arrest, requiring immigrants to carry documentation, and preventing undocumented workers from soliciting work.

Georgians, who just passed a similar law, and Floridians should take notice of the harm caused in Arizona. Many of the sections of the law still stand, including some draconian ones that promise to hinder police work and punish business owners.

Employers should worry about Sections 7 and 8, which strengthen the 2007 Legal Arizona Workers Act, mandating that all businesses in the state use the faulty E-Verify system to ascertain workers' legal status. According to a 2010 audit, E-Verify fails to identify undocumented workers 54% of the time, and has misidentified legal workers as illegal. SB 1070 also increases penalties under LAWA. Under a two-strike policy, second-time business offenders lose their business licenses. Ironically, a law championed by conservatives makes it harder for businesses to hire employees.

Arizona's new enforcement measures won't solve the problems of unauthorized immigration, and will likely increase the black market in labor. Indeed LAWA pushed more undocumented workers deeper into the black market. A 2011 report by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found that while LAWA decreased the undocumented population of Arizona between 2008 and 2009, it also forced tens of thousands "into informal or underground employment."

Law enforcement officers should worry about Section 2, which grants all legal residents the power to sue any state agency or official that they believe is failing to enforce immigration laws. This provision will funnel millions of dollars to trial lawyers and put Arizona police officers in a no-win situation. As 19-year Phoenix Police Department veteran David Salgado notes, enforcing SB 1070 could get him sued by the federal government for violating civil rights protections, while failing to enforce it zealously could get him sued by anti-immigration activists. (Salgado and seven other officers sued to block SB 1070, but the judge dismissed their case last September.)

Deputizing Arizona's police officers as federal immigration agents will make their jobs even more difficult, because unauthorized immigrants will be more reluctant to report crimes or work with police as witnesses. As Tucson police chief Roberto Villasenor said, SB 1070 "damages our capability to obtain information to solve the crimes."

And for what? In the year since its passage, SB 1070 has provided no benefit to Arizona. It has done nothing to help the economy. Arizona's unemployment rate, at 9.6%, remains higher than the national rate of 8.9%. Kicking out undocumented immigrants who are consumers, workers, and business owners is hurting Arizona's recovery.

The crime situation is not likely to look much better. Arizona crime statistics since the passage of SB 1070 are not out yet, but there is a precedent to compare them to: When Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio decided to enforce immigration laws locally, the violent crime rate in Maricopa surged by 58% between 2004 and 2009. Arpaio's immigration obsession shifted resources from solving and responding to violent crimes to immigration enforcement, according to the Goldwater Institute. Meanwhile, the rest of Arizona, including border areas, saw dramatic declines in violent crime rates during the same period. SB 1070 takes some of Sheriff Arpaio's methods and applies them statewide.

Real solutions to the problems associated with illegal immigration will come only from expanding legal immigration--by removing barriers to the movement of people across borders. Then law enforcement will be able to focus on real border threats--keeping out criminals and potential terrorists. Without expanded legal immigration, laws like Arizona's will continue to harm police officers, businesses and other residents.