Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

With the federal government unwilling to secure our border, we are left with little choice

[i] Should states and local governments have the right to enforce their own immigration laws when their voters decide the federal laws and practices are insufficient? [b]Yes[/b][/i]

Our neighbor to the south is in a massive battle with well-organized drug cartels. Because of Washington’s failure to secure our southern border, Arizona has become the superhighway for illegal drug and human smuggling activity. In December 2008, the U.S. Justice Department said that Mexican gangs are the “biggest organized crime threat to the United States.” In 2009, Phoenix had 316 kidnapping cases, turning the city into our nation’s kidnapping capital. Almost all of the persons kidnapped were undocumented immigrants or linked to the drug trade.

The same week that I signed the new law, a major drug ring was broken up and Mexican cartel operatives suspected of running 40,000 pounds of marijuana through southern Arizona were indicted.

While drug smuggling is the principal cause of our massive border violence problem, many of the same criminal organizations also smuggle people. Busts of drop houses, where undocumented immigrants are often held for ransom or otherwise severely abused, are not an uncommon occurrence in Arizona neighborhoods.

Today, Arizona has approximately 6,000 prison inmates who are foreign nationals, representing a cost to our state of roughly $150 million per year. Arizona taxpayers are paying for a vast majority of these incarceration expenses because the federal government refuses to pay what it owes. My predecessor as Arizona governor, current Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, sent numerous requests to the federal government to pay for these prisoners—only to be given the same answer that she and President Barack Obama are now giving Arizona: they will not pay the bill.

When I signed the legislation, I stated clearly I will not tolerate racial discrimination or racial profiling in Arizona. My administration worked for weeks with legislators to clarify and strengthen SB 1070’s civil rights protections. I issued an executive order to implement proper training and enforcement protocols for our police so that the intent of the bill’s language could not be misconstrued. Although it is already against the law, the new law undeniably prohibits law enforcement officers from considering race, color or national origin in implementing the new statute.

As committed as I am to protecting our state from crime associated with illegal immigration, I am equally committed to holding law enforcement accountable should this statute ever be misused to violate an individual’s rights.

There have been countless distortions, honest omissions, myths, and bad information about Arizona’s new law—many, undoubtedly, spread to create fear or mistrust.

So, here are the facts: first, the new Arizona law creates a state penalty to mirror what already is a federal crime. Despite the vile and hate-filled portrayals of proponents of the law as “Nazis”—actions that have been condemned nationally by the Anti-Defamation League—it is already a federal requirement for legal aliens in the U.S.  to carry their green card or other immigration document. As anyone who has traveled abroad knows, other nations have similar laws.

Second, contrary to the horror stories being spread around (President Barack Obama, for example, suggested families risk being pulled over while going out for ice cream), law enforcement cannot randomly ask anyone about their immigration status. Much like the enforcement of seat belt laws in many states, under our new law there must first be reasonable suspicion that you are breaking some other non-immigration law before an officer can ask about your legal status. Only after another law has been broken can law enforcement officers inquire about immigration status if an individual’s behavior provides “reasonable suspicion” that the person is here illegally. Reasonable suspicion is a well-understood concept that has been thoroughly vetted through numerous federal court cases. Racial profiling is prohibited in the new law. Examples of reasonable suspicion include a person running away when approached by law enforcement officers or a car failing to stop when the police turn on their lights.

Finally,  Arizona’s local law enforcement officers, who already reflect the great diversity of culture in our state, are going to be trained to enforce the new immigration law in a constitutional manner. It is shameful and presumptive for opponents to question the good will and the competence of Arizona’s law enforcement personnel.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man’s permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor.”

Arizona has been more than patient waiting for Washington to act. Decades of federal inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation. Arizona has acted to enforce the rule of law, equally and without bias toward any person.

Polls show that a majority of Americans support Arizona’s new law. As representatives elected by and for the people, we have an obligation to represent and protect our citizens to the best of our ability. The federal government has failed in its obligation and moral responsibility to secure our border. A government’s principal responsibility to its citizens is to provide safety and security. States have never been expected, even in prosperous economic times, to sustain the national defense of our borders.

Arizona will no longer sit idly by and watch the destruction of our great state while the federal government watches from the sidelines. Although I recognize that SB 1070, as amended, is not the entire solution to our illegal immigration problem in Arizona, most people are united in the hope that it will finally inspire the politicians in Washington to stop talking and start acting now.

Like what you've read? Subscribe to AQ for more.
Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Sign up for our free newsletter