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July 2012, Volume 18, Number 3
The US Supreme Court in June 2012 accepted one and rejected three parts of Arizona's SB 1070, an attrition-through-enforcement law enacted in April 2010 to encourage unauthorized foreigners to leave the state. Federal courts had blocked four of SB 1070's key provisions, those requiring police to verify the immigration status of everyone they encounter who they reasonably suspect may be unauthorized; allowing police to arrest foreigners they believe committed deportable offenses; making it a state crime for foreigners to fail to carry registration documents; and making it a state crime for illegal immigrants to seek or perform work.
Arizona appealed these injunctions, arguing that SB 1070 or the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act supports federal efforts to enforce laws against illegal immigration. The Obama administration joined critics who argued that SB 1070 is undue state interference with the federal government's exclusive power to regulate immigration. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he would not oppose state laws such as SB 1070.
In a 5-3 decision, the US Supreme Court reinforced the federal government's exclusive authority to regulate migration but allowed state and local police to determine the status of persons they "reasonably suspect" are not lawfully in the US. The Court warned that, if police implement this Section 2(B) provision in ways that lead to racial profiling and civil rights violations, it could be found unconstitutional as well. The Court struck down the other three provisions of SB 1070 and reinforced the federal government's authority to regulate immigration.
SB 1070 allows Arizona residents to sue police who do not enforce the law. The US Department of Justice established a hot-line for Arizona residents to complain about violations of their civil rights (855-353-1010), and the Department of Homeland Security announced that it was suspending its 287(g) agreements with Arizona law enforcement agencies.
DHS estimated that the number of unauthorized foreigners in Arizona rose from 330,000 in 2000 to 560,000 in 2008 and dropped to 360,000 in 2011. The number of English-language learners in Arizona K-12 schools fell from 155,000 in 2005 to 100,000 in 2011.
Those advocating less immigration support Arizona's right to enact state laws that aim for attrition through enforcement, while those urging more immigration argue that only the federal government can establish and enforce immigration laws. An April 2012 Fox News poll found that 65 percent of Americans support SB 1070. Divisions on illegal immigration were evident among states (16 states supported SB 1070 and 11 opposed it), and in the House, where 80 Republican members signed a brief supporting SB 1070 while 70 Democrats signed a brief opposing it.
Five states, Alabama with HB 56, Georgia with HB 87, Indiana with SB 590 and HB 1402, South Carolina with S 20 and Utah with HB 497, enacted laws similar to SB 1070 in 2011. Five states considered similar laws in 2012: Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, West Virginia and Tennessee. Mississippi in spring 2012 considered HB 488, an attrition-through-enforcement bill, but did not enact it into law after opposition from most of the state's employers.
Alabama in 2012 modified a few provisions of HB 56, but added more, including a requirement that the state publish the name of every illegal immigrant who appears in court to respond to charges of violating a state law.
DREAM. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would allow unauthorized foreigners brought to the US as children to become probationary immigrants immediately. If they completed two years of college or military service, they could become legal immigrants and eventually US citizens.
Senate Republicans blocked approval of DREAM in 2010. During his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney denounced DREAM, calling it a magnet for unauthorized migration. However, in April 2012 Romney said he would consider a revised version of DREAM proposed by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) that would give unauthorized foreigners brought to the US as children an indefinite legal status but not a path to citizenship. Those legalized under Rubio's version of DREAM could seek immigrant visas via marriage or ties to relatives settled in the US or by having an employer sponsor them.
In June 2012, Romney said: "We can find common ground [on immigration reform]. We owe it to ourselves as Americans to ensure that our country remains a land of opportunity, both for those who were born here and for those who share our values, respect our laws, and want to come to our shores." Romney called for revising guest worker programs to meet "our economic needs."
President Obama in June 2012 announced that DHS would stop deporting unauthorized foreigners who arrived in the US before age 16, are between the ages of 16 and 30 and lived illegally in the US at least five years, and are enrolled in school, have a high school diploma or equivalent degree or are honorably discharged veterans. Qualifying unauthorized foreigners can register with DHS and receive permission to work legally if they can show "financial hardship." Obama said that this "temporary stopgap measure" would "lift the shadow of deportation from these young people."
Latinos praised Obama and said that the new policy could increase enthusiasm for Obama's re-election; some called it the most significant migration policy change since the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 legalized 2.7 million unauthorized foreigners, including 2.3 million Mexicans. However, Romney said that Obama's executive order "makes it more difficult" to deal with unauthorized foreign youth. Some Congressional Republicans said that Obama was defying US law in a bid to win Hispanic votes in 2012. Polls show that most Hispanics oppose the aggressive enforcement of immigration laws that resulted in 400,000 deportations a year under President Obama.
Obama acted on the 30th anniversary of Plyler v. Doe, the US Supreme Court decision that held that states cannot deny K-12 education to unauthorized foreigners. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that almost 70 percent of Americans, and 90 percent of Hispanics, supported Obama's plan to allow unauthorized foreigners brought as children to the US to register for protection from deportation.
Pew estimated that 700,000 unauthorized foreigners between 18 and 30 could be eligible for renewable two-year "deferred actions" under Obama's plan and another 700,000 unauthorized children still in school could benefit. The total 1.4 million unauthorized foreigners who could benefit are about 12 percent of the unauthorized stock of foreigners in the US in 2010; an estimated 70 percent are Mexicans.
Reform. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack continues to advocate immigration reform. In an April 2012 speech, Vilsack called US agriculture the "gateway" to the American Dream for low-skilled migrants from Mexico and Central America.
Howard Buffett, middle son of investor Warren Buffet, is an Illinois corn and soybean farmer who is pressing for agricultural guest worker reform. Buffet asserted that state attrition-through-enforcement laws left "over $3 billion worth of food to rot in fields' in 2011, citing Farm Bureau estimates (the value of US farm production was almost $400 billion in 2011). Buffet says that he wants farmers to have access to legal workers, but does not want unauthorized workers to receive amnesty that would make them immigrants.
The Howard G. Buffett Foundation has been paying for ads in farm magazines that allow farm employers to explain their labor problems. Greg Gonzalez, a South Florida-based farm labor contractor, says that he recruits 500 to 700 workers to harvest 10,000 acres of sweet corn in Florida, Georgia, Indiana and Illinois.
Melissa Harris, "Howard Buffett, Warren's farmer son, nurtures a cause," Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2012.