Editorial: Immigration eruption

Not to be outdone by Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano responsible for sending a giant cloud of ash to Europe, grounding flights and humorously forcing journalists to attempt to say its name, Arizona made headline news around the world on Friday when Gov. Jan Brewer signed a controversial immigration bill into law.

In possibly the first time Arizona has received international attention since the Grand Canyon was discovered, the exposure was not flattering.

Like the ash emanating from the unpronounceable volcano, SB 1070 has covered Arizona with a similarly depressing cloud, making the state the target of ridicule from across the globe.

Publications including The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, BBC, Reuters and The Huffington Post all had Arizona’s immigration battle as their lead story online. Even Al-Jazeera had several stories on the issue.

Whether or not you agree with the bill as written, it’s hard to deny the fact that it paints Arizona in a negative light. Facebook groups urging people to boycott Arizona already have thousands of members, and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg jumped on the chance to tell travelers to visit the Big Apple instead of the Grand Canyon state. No one knows with certainty the effect this will have on tourism or the Arizona economy, but the general outcry against the state from across the world is something we shouldn’t be too quick to brush off.

And if Arizona stands to lose a lot from this law, what exactly does it have to gain?

An overstrained police force, for one thing. Beyond requiring law enforcement officials to question the citizenship status of anyone on “reasonable suspicion” (a vague mandate, yes), it allows citizens to sue the police if they don’t think they are carrying out the legislation to the full extent of the law. It may sound like a check on law enforcement, but it just puts police officers in a Catch-22 — either they question everyone who looks like they are an immigrant (which may to lead to racial profiling and lawsuits), or they open themselves up to lawsuits from people who think they aren’t doing enough.

Police protection will also likely suffer; a 2008 Pulitzer-prize winning series by the East Valley Tribune showed that, as a result of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s efforts to step up illegal immigration enforcement, the public faced side effects like slower response times and dropping arrest rates.

It’s a no-win situation for police, and the law does little to earn the title “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.”

Despite claiming to be tough on immigration, the biggest thing the law has accomplished is making Arizona a target of ridicule. But it also points to a more relevant problem — the lack of federal immigration reform.

“Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others,” President Barack Obama said Friday. “And that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

Congressman Jeff Flake R-Ariz. said in a statement to POLITICO, “Immigration is the federal government’s responsibility, and we have failed to address it. State and local governments, particularly in Arizona, are bearing the brunt of our inaction, so I don’t blame the Arizona Legislature for trying to pick up the slack.”

If this law is what it takes to get the federal government to take real action on the issue, then at least it will have one positive effect. But it will be completely at the expense of the state. Just by virtue of being passed, SB 1070 has changed Arizona. If this type of irresponsible bill can be signed into law — what else are lawmakers able to do? We think it’s fair to say that this issue is going to take a lot longer than volcanic ash to dissipate.