This weekend, Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) released a campaign video featuring a singing frog puppet encouraging opponents to read the state’s recently passed immigration law, SB-1070, before forming an opinion about it. The sing-a-long mocks Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano for criticizing SB-1070 without having had a chance to review the whole bill.
Despite the fact that Napolitano and Holder were likely briefed by someone who had read SB-1070 in detail, they probably should’ve read it themselves. However, Wonk Room has read it well enough to know that Brewer’s ad distracts from the fact that a lot of their criticisms of the law are justified.
In past interviews, Napolitano has rightly pointed out that she had vetoed laws nearly identical to SB-1070 when she was governor of Arizona. So, at the very least, she has some basic knowledge about the core provisions contained in SB-1070. Napolitano has also stated that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency fears it will have to use its stretched resources to deal with those arrested under Arizona’s new law. “We have some deep concerns with the law…it will detract from and siphon resources that we need to concentrate on those in the country illegally, those who have committed the most serious crimes,” Napolitano said. Unless Arizona police plan on personally transporting immigrants back across the border without ever contacting ICE to definitively verify that the suspects are illegally present in the U.S., Napolitano doesn’t need to read the law to know that the state will need the federal government’s help in implementing it. The Center for American Progress estimates that it costs $23,148 for each person to be apprehended, detained, legally processed, and finally transported out of the country. Given the high cost of deportation, ICE has a policy of focusing its resources on going after the “worst of the worst.” Yet, SB-1070 does not discriminate between an undocumented gardener and a dangerous drug cartel operative. In practical terms, helping Arizona enforce its new immigration law is beyond the scope of ICE’s limited budget and runs counter to its priorities.
Holder has called SB-1070 “unfortunate” in that it might give rise to potential “abuse” by law enforcement officials. If Holder had read the law, he could’ve pointed to Section 2 of the law which “impermissibly vests” in police officers “unbridled discretion” in establishing “reasonable suspicion” that someone is undocumented. The amended law prohibits racial profiling, but it doesn’t outline the criteria that should be used to establish “reasonable suspicion” that someone is unlawfully present in the U.S. In the words of the president of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association, David Leopold, “‘reasonable suspicion’ under S.B. 1070 is based on a subjective notion of a person’s status” — which leaves a lot of room for both abuse and error. Also, as part of the amended bill, a police officer responding to city ordinance violations would be required to determine the immigration status if reasonable suspicion is established. One of the bill’s architects, lawyer Kris Kobach, said himself that it essentially means police can use violations such as “cars on blocks in the yard” as an excuse to “initiate queries” in light of the “lawful contact” deletion.
Brewer’s video also doesn’t mention the fact that some of SB-1070’s biggest proponents hadn’t read the law before commenting on it either. Think Progress reported last week that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) took the liberty to praise SB-1070 as a “good tool” for law enforcement, despite not having “had a chance to look at all the aspects.”