Immigration policy is a federal responsibility and should remain so. That's the message the National League of Cities (NLC) and dozens of cities will send to the Supreme Court this week as it hears oral arguments in State of Arizona v United States, which challenges the authority of the state of Arizona to enact its own immigration law, SB1070.
"It is important that the federal government on behalf of the nation adopt a comprehensive immigration policy that advances the highest and best interests of all residents," said Donald J. Borut, Executive Director of NLC.
Under SB1070, which became law in 2010, local law enforcement officers are required to investigate individuals' immigration status, detain all arrestees until their immigration status is verified, and enforce state laws that criminalize both the failure to carry registration documents and any attempt by an undocumented resident to apply for or perform work in the state.
NLC, in an amicus brief joined by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and more than 40 municipalities, argues that allowing states to create their own immigration enforcement policies will detract from local public safety priorities and stretch already limited resources. SB1070 effectively requires local law enforcement to spend considerable time and money detaining individuals who may eventually not even be charged with a crime, while researching their immigration status.
The law also creates an unreasonable burden on law enforcement to enforce an unworkable law. If a city chooses, for whatever reason, not to enforce the law to its fullest extent, then it may be sued by any resident of the state. Localities also risk depleting resources defending themselves from a surge of lawsuits contending that arrestees were stopped using constitutionally questionable tactics, like racial profiling.
More troubling than the financial implications, SB1070 makes many members of immigrant communities - including those who are lawfully present in the United States - justifiably afraid of interacting with local officials. When fear makes residents reluctant to seek law enforcement assistance, crimes go unreported, witnesses fear coming forward, victims lack protection, and communities become less safe for all members - non-citizens and citizens alike.
"A positive working relationship between law enforcement and immigrant populations is essential for effective community policing," said Borut. "This law creates more harm than good in straining the resources and relationships needed to keep residents safe and neighborhoods strong.
"Immigration has supported our nation over many decades and has been a source for economic growth and innovation for our cities and the nation," he continued. "The Arizona law underscores the urgent need to move forward now with comprehensive reform at the federal level."
Over the years, NLC has examined the role that cities can take to help immigrants integrate into the civic fabric of American life. Barriers of miscommunication over language and cultural difference are just some of the challenges facing police departments and local residents. Successful efforts often rest on community leaders reaching out and building trust to overcome these challenges.
A copy of the amicus brief is at http://bit.ly/NLCImmigrationAmicusBrief2012
A copy of NLC's Comprehensive Immigration Reform Policy is at /influence-federal-policy/advocacy/legislative-advocacy/fix-the-nations-broken-immigration-system
For more information on NLC's Municipal Action for Immigration Integration project, visit /find-city-solutions/research-innovation/immigrant-integration
The National League of Cities is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. NLC is a resource and advocate for 19,000 cities, towns and villages, representing more than 218 million Americans.