Feds will veto Arizona’s new law by ignoring it

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 2, 2010

Here’s a prediction: If Arizona officers try to enforce their state’s new law against illegal immigration, they’ll have the same experience Mississippi troopers, deputies and police have been having for many years. Simply put, ICE will say no dice.

Lost amid all the furor over the statute, which directs Arizona officers to check whether people they routinely encounter are legally in the United States, are the practical aspects. States don’t have the power to deport. Only the federal government has that right — and responsibility.

More than a few officers in Mississippi have told me their experiences going back several years.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

They stop a vehicle, often a van, loaded with men, women and children in the middle of the night. None of the people has any identification and there’s little reason to believe they’re in the United States legally.

Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail.

The officer has some choices to ponder.

With the exception of a driver who has no license or proof of insurance, none of the others has broken any state law.

The officer can radio for a federal Immigration Control and Enforcement team to come to the scene. An immediate ICE response would take hours, but any response has been about as likely as spotting a whale in the Ross Barnett Reservoir.

The officer can detain the whole bunch, hauling them to the nearest jail. This is what the Arizona officers are to start doing. But, again, the logistics present a challenge. Few small cities have facilities to hold women and children. What if the feds say they can’t show up for two days, three days or a week or more?

The final option is for the officer to write a citation and send the vehicle on its way, which is what happens every day in Mississippi.

Word is that any beat cop who tried seriously to enforce immigration law would spend 90 percent of every shift filling out paperwork.

Officers have also told me — and this may surprise some — they have a hard time “hassling” people who are trying desperately to find work to feed, clothe and provide for their families while their time could be spent time chasing real bad guys — those who rob and burglarize or make and sell narcotics.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, whose name was on a package of immigration reforms Congress considered but did not pass two years ago, said his home state had to act because the administration of President Barack Obama failed to “secure our borders.” Sorry, Senator, but Obama isn’t the first president to fail on that score.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican like McCain, signed the bill that directs state police to question citizenship and, for the first time, makes it a crime for illegals to be in Arizona. She says the state cannot keep picking up the costs associated with schools and medical care to which courts say illegals have a right.

Further, Brewer said the minority of illegals engaged in drug trafficking and other crimes, including murder, are creating havoc in addition to expense.

Under court rulings, law enforcement officers everywhere have the authority to ask any person his or her name and for some form of identification. No probable cause or reasonable suspicion is required for that.

Obama, however, has questioned the legal authority for Arizona to enforce federal law, arguing it would be a violation of civil rights for state law enforcement to question the legality of an individual’s residency. The courts will say whether the president is correct, but his position seems ludicrous. State and local officers detain hundreds of people every day on federal warrants and put them in local jails to wait for FBI or U.S. Marshals Service personnel to pick them up. Is Obama saying the local guys can assist in enforcement of some federal laws, but not others?

And that leads to this: Perhaps Arizona’s lawmakers and governor don’t really expect the initiative to work, not as written anyway. Perhaps the real purpose is to create the sentiment among illegals that Arizona is not where they want to be.

If so, that would add to the burden of other border states, California, New Mexico and Texas, and, to a lesser degree, states such as Louisiana and Mississippi. Lawmakers in those states might respond with similar “get tough” laws. But then what?

Immigration, in the abstract, is a no-brainer. Every nation legally defines citizenship and has the right to secure its borders.

It’s only in practical terms — during a traffic stop on a highway roadside in Arizona or Mississippi — that things get personal and much more difficult — especially when the federal government sends mixed messages.