The Campaign Spot

Why Is a Secure Border Politically Controversial?

From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Arizona Can Check if Criminals Are Here Illegally… But Then What?

The debate about illegal immigration in this country is particularly infuriating.

Is it terribly controversial to say, in an ideal world, the government of the United States would be able to control who comes in and goes out? That that sort of ideal circumstance would prevent terrorists, gang members, drug smugglers, people smugglers, etc. from coming in and creating problems ranging from the minor to the catastrophic? I realize the government will never have 100 percent control over our borders. I realize we live in an imperfect world, but shouldn’t we aim for as much control over the border as possible?

Okay, good. Now, I’m glad we have more boots on the ground than we used to have on our southern border. I’m glad that we have improvements for Janet Napolitano to brag about, but as PolitiFact noted:

The data DHS gave us is not enough to prove definitively that Napolitano’s claim that the agency has “seized more currency, more drugs, more outbound arms in the past year than any year in our country’s history.” We can say that seizures increased recently under the Obama administration, but they were so low in the past that the bump is not a major accomplishment. Also, the seized contraband is likely such a small percentage of what crosses the border that the increase’s impact on the illegal drug trade is slight.

A safer border is not necessarily a safe border.

Back in 2010, the federal government felt the need to post signs in Arizona that “warn travelers that they are entering an ‘active drug and human smuggling area’ and they may encounter ‘armed criminals and smuggling vehicles traveling at high rates of speed.’ Beginning less than 50 miles south of Phoenix, the signs encourage travelers to “use public lands north of Interstate 8” and to call 911 if they “see suspicious activity.” (The signs then got modified,  “Visitor Information Update- active federal law enforcement patrol area, clean-up and restoration crews at work, contact BLM rangers for current area status.”)

Once the public perceives that law and order has been restored to the border, the entire discussion about illegal immigration will change. Whatever option is decided for those currently living in the country illegally – an amnesty, deportation, a guest worker program, a DREAM Act – the country will at least feel secure that the situation isn’t going to get worse, that thousands or tens of thousands will not attempt to cross the border to get included in an amnesty.

Anyway, this is just to point out that the state of Arizona got into the immigration-enforcement business out of a widespread sense that the federal government refused to do its duties in immigration enforcement – and that there was some perverse cruelty in the federal government that had so thoroughly failed to mitigate the problems of an unsecure border and widespread illegal immigration going to court to prevent states from trying to do their job.

And now, thanks to five Supreme Court justices, Arizona is largely out of the immigration law enforcement business, with one exception.

Over at Bench Memos, Ed Whelan declares :

For anyone who entertains the hope that the majority’s ruling on section 2(B) makes the case some sort of significant victory for Arizona, I invite you to have your illusion dispelled by reading Justice Scalia’s dissent. As Scalia puts it in his final two paragraphs:

Arizona bears the brunt of the country’s illegal immigration problem. Its citizens feel themselves under siege by large numbers of illegal immigrants who invade their property, strain their social services, and even place their lives in jeopardy. Federal officials have been unable to remedy the problem, and indeed have recently shown that they are unwilling to do so. Thousands of Arizona’s estimated 400,000 illegal immigrants—including not just children but men and women under 30—are now assured immunity from enforcement, and will be able to compete openly with Arizona citizens for employment.

Arizona has moved to protect its sovereignty—not in contradiction of federal law, but in complete compliance with it. The laws under challenge here do not extend or revise federal immigration restrictions, but merely enforce those restrictions more effectively. If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign State.

Donald Douglas isn’t so glum: “Progressives will highlight that 3 of 4 of the law’s provisions were struck down. But the thing to emphasis is that it’s really the key provision that was upheld by the court — the authority for local law enforcement to determine the legal residency status of suspects in a lawful stop. That’s what’s been called “racial profiling” for these past few years. It’s what progressives targeted for defeat at the Court. In that sense, no matter what the left says, this is a huge defeat for the open borders extremists in the Democrat Party and the radical netroots fever swamps.”

William Jacobson sums up, “The net-net?  The federal government did better than many expected, particularly on section 6.  I don’t think many people thought state criminal sanctions and other state requirements would survive. Section 2(B) remains in effect for now, which politically is a lot more palatable, because the immigration status check only takes place after a lawful detention.  But there will be more litigation once the law is put into effect and applied.”

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