By William Fisher
Immigration experts, law enforcement officials and religious leaders are hitting back at the draconian legislation signed into law in Arizona last week, charging it will subject the State to “staggering potential costs” and vowing to have the law declared unconstitutional in the courts.
In one Arizona county alone, Yuma County, the sheriff estimates that law-enforcement agencies would spend between $775,880 and $1,163,820 in processing expenses; Jail costs between $21,195,600 and $96,086,720; and
attorney and staff fees between $810,067-$1,620,134.
The estimates by Yuma County Sheriff Ralph E. Ogden were produced because there is no state-wide fiscal data yet available on the cost of the legislation’s implementation. Sheriff Ogden’s estimates were prepared for inclusion in a fact sheet produced in response to similar legislation in 2006. Yuma County is one of Arizona's 15 counties, with a population of about 200,000. The Sheriff's fact sheet also shows that additional detention facilities would have to be built at unknown costs.
These costs do not account for lost revenue such as tax contributions and consumer purchasing, as well as the potentially expensive lawsuits that will likely ensue.
Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed the legislation after a week of protests by anti- and pro-immigration groups. The new law makes Arizona the first state in the nation to consider it a crime for a person to be an undocumented immigrant.
Several legal challenges to keep the legislation from taking effect are already in the works by the Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON).
“Arizona would have the same place in history as South Africa,” said Salvador Reza, organizer for the PUENTE movement, which advocates for human rights, comparing the new law to apartheid.
But the passage of the Arizona law may also have ignited new energy and resolve from the pro-immigration reform movement. President Barack Obama has criticized the Arizona bill, saying it threatens to “undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.” He called on Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
Sen. John McCain, a Republican of Arizona, has in the past been one of the champions of comprehensive immigration reform. Today, locked in a tight primary challenge from his right wing to win his party’s nomination for another term, he has endorsed the new law. Arizona’s other senator, Republican John Kyl, has done likewise.
Known as the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act,” the law would allow police officers to arrest a person based on “reasonable suspicion ” that he or she is an undocumented immigrant. Police departments could face lawsuits by individuals who believe they are not enforcing the law.
A coalition of businesses and religious leaders has warned that the impact of the new measure could severely damage the Arizona economy.
The new law “is tearing our state into two. It humiliates us into the eyes of America and threatens our economic recovery,” said Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon.
State Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican from Mesa, the author of the bill, said the legislation would have the opposite effect. He believes the new legislation will lead immigrants to leave Arizona, causing the state to save money in services it currently provides to the children of undocumented immigrants at schools and hospitals. He has said that states have to take the matter into their own hands in absence of federal enforcement.
The recent death of a rancher on the border connected to violence in the area gave momentum to passage of the new law.
As the Arizona Governor signed the bill into law, the national and Arizona faith community condemned it as “an affront to moral conscience that will divide families and communities. The inhumane legislation demonstrates the urgent need for national political leadership to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” said a coalition of a dozen s leaders from evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish religions representing millions of Americans.
Rev. Jim Wallis, President and CEO of The Sojourners, said, “The law signed today by Arizona Gov. Brewer is a social and racial sin, and should be denounced as such by people of faith and conscience across the nation. It is not just about Arizona, but about all of us, and about what kind of country we want to be. It is not only mean-spirited – it will be ineffective and will only serve to further divide communities in Arizona, making everyone more fearful and less safe.”
He said the legislation “crosses many moral and legal lines, is a clear demonstration of the fundamental mistake of separating enforcement from comprehensive immigration reform. Enforcement without reform of the system is merely cruel. Enforcement without compassion is immoral. Enforcement that breaks up families is unacceptable. This law will make it illegal to love your neighbor in Arizona, and will force us to disobey Jesus and his gospel. We will not comply.”
And Rev. Jan Flaaten, Executive Director of the Arizona Ecumenical Council, said, "All the religious leaders of Arizona know and understand that this law will not solve the issue of crime along the border or in our state, but it will demonize anyone who looks suspiciously like an undocumented person leading to inevitable racial profiling. Our religious traditions ask us to treat people with dignity and respect, and we look for a more enlightened and hopeful way of working with the undocumented people who live along side us."
The legislation was also condemned by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). The group said in a statement, “The measure allows law enforcement agencies to detain anybody if there is reason to suspect they are illegal immigrants, and requires legal immigrants to carry paperwork proving their status at all times. There is a profound fear in the civil rights community that the new measure will permit the practice of racial profiling by Arizona law enforcement personnel.”
Abed Ayoub, ADC Legal Director, said, "To allow the use of racial profiling in law enforcement practices is both dangerous and unconstitutional. The measure signed into law by Gov. Brewer has a profound impact on not only the Latino community of Arizona, but on all individuals living in the state. This law also illustrates the pressing need for Congress, and the Obama Administration to pass comprehensive immigration reform."