Arizona Passes Tough New Immigration Law

Immigration has been an important factor in the growth of the United States into the strong, diverse nation that it is. But the subject has never been far from controversy related to race, class, or civil rights; and when the word “illegal” is part of the conversation, the temperature can get hotter than a desert in Arizona. Speaking of Arizona, on April 23 its governor, Jan Brewer, signed into law the nation’s toughest bill on illegal immigration sparking a divisive national “debate.” Arizona officials say they are frustrated by the federal government’s inability to enforce immigration law within the state. Claiming the legislation would “undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans,” President Obama directed the Justice Department to monitor its implementation for violations of citizens’ civil rights.

The Arizona law makes it a minor state crime to not carry immigration papers. Arizona thus becomes the first state to demand that immigrants obey federal requirements to carry identity documents that prove their legal presence on American soil. The law requires police to question anyone “reasonably suspected” of being in the country illegally. Court challenges are sure to arise. According to some law professors, the Arizona law is unconstitutional because immigration policy, like foreign policy, is a federal, not state, power.

The new law was met with immediate protests. Opponents said it would invite harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status. A Catholic cardinal of Los Angeles even likened the new police authority to demand documents to “Nazism.” A Mexican American civil rights group predicted the law would result in widespread racial profiling that would cause “pervasive fear, community distrust, increased crime and costly litigation.”

Related Links

  • Arizona Enacts Stringent Law on Immigration
    This New York Times article examines the tough new immigration bill signed into law this month by Arizona governor Jan Brewer.
    (Source: New York Times, April 23, 2010)
  • Arizona Governor Signs Immigration Bill, Reopening National Debate
    This Washington Post article describes the controversy that has greeted passage of a new Arizona law that aims to crack down on illegal immigration within the state; includes a video clip of President Obama’s response.
    (Source: Washington Post, April 23, 2010)
  • Law Profs on Arizona Immigration Bill: It’s Unconstitutional
    This blog from the Wall Street Journal presents opinions on the constitutionality of the new Arizona law.
    (Source: Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2010)
  • The New Geography of United States Immigration
    This study from the Brookings Institution, released in July 2009, provides a larger context for the issue of Arizona’s new law; includes charts, graphs, and maps that display information on trends in U.S. immigration, the makeup of the nation’s immigrant population (an estimated 11.4 million are “unauthorized”), and related issues and policies.
    (Source: Brookings Institution; accessed April 30, 2010)

Other Issues in the Region

Urban Sprawl

Poorly-planned or unplanned growth that causes the population in a metropolitan area to spread out over an ever-wider area is called urban sprawl. As cities expand, more roads must be built (using up even more land), traffic increases, and commuting time between home and work keeps growing longer. Additional green areas are paved over for shopping centers that sprout up along the new roads, adding to the traffic congestion. Urban sprawl can reduce the quality of life and harm our health, according to a growing number of concerned scientists, policy makers, environmentalists, public-health workers, and ordinary residents. Not only does urban sprawl deplete natural resources, it also discourages activities that promote health, such as walking and bike riding. Pedestrians often find it dangerous to cross busy intersections, and bicyclists feel threatened by the rush of distracted commuters. Many people are calling for increased awareness and action to address health concerns related to urban sprawl.

Diverse Populations

After waves of immigration over several centuries, the United States has an ethnically diverse population, but this diversity brings its own challenges. Some Americans advocate stricter immigration controls, saying the United States allows too much immigration. Others believe immigrants do not do enough to assimilate, or become part of the larger U.S. culture. Many recent immigrants, meanwhile, try to balance assimilation against their cultural heritage. As immigrant and ethnic groups increase in size, their political influence increases and political parties vie for their support by identifying issues of concern to the immigrant community.

Between 8 and 12 million people in the United States are “undocumented aliens”-immigrants who are in the country illegally. Some have expired temporary visas. Others risked their lives to sneak across the U.S. border. Once in the United States, many take low-paying jobs and live in squalid conditions in fear of being arrested or deported. Opponents of increased immigration say foreign workers will take jobs from U.S. citizens and that offering legal status to illegal aliens who are already here only encourages illegal immigration. Supporters of increased immigration dispute claims that immigration hurts American workers. They also argue that many illegal aliens do not want to stay in the United States permanently, but cannot go home because of tight border controls.

  • Multiracial No Longer Boxed In by the Census
    The Census 2010 questionnaire reminds Americans that racial classifications do still matter (at least to the government), while allowing the increasing number of people for whom racial lines have blurred to identify themselves as multiracial. (Source: USA Today, March 15, 2010)

Combating Terrorism

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States launched a broad campaign against terror groups in the United States and abroad. The Department of Homeland Security was created as a way to consolidate government departments charged with finding and breaking up terror cells inside the country. The United States also invaded Afghanistan to break up al-Qaeda terrorist training grounds and to overthrow the country’s Taliban regime, which had provided al-Qaeda with a haven for its activities.

  • “Islamic Radicalism” Nixed from Obama Document
    President Barack Obama has taken some different approaches to combating terrorism than his predecessor, George W. Bush. As Obama plans a new national security strategy, rhetoric and terminology about the terrorist threat facing the United States is again under examination. (Source: CBS News, April 7, 2010)

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