Federal Government: Step Up on Immigration Reform

Jul 29, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton enjoined the most hideous sections of Arizona's racially profiling law SB 1070. It was a victory for the millions of people who have been organizing for months to uphold our country's basic values and thousands of grassroots leaders in Arizona who have braved heat and harassment to take a stand. But the underlying problem hasn't been solved, either in Arizona or nationally. Policies by the federal government still create the conditions for massive human rights violations, and inaction on comprehensive reform allows the problems to fester.

Federal government programs, the infamous 287g and Secure Communities programs, allow local police departments to enforce immigration law. Those programs, which invite racial profiling and other abuses, led to the mess we now see in Arizona -- families separated and communities living in fear. What the Arizona legislature sought with SB 1070 was to force every police agency in the state to act like the infamous sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio. Arpaio is probably the most notorious participant in the 287g program, which gives local police the authority to enforce immigration law.

Arpaio's abuses are widely known. He is being investigated by the Justice Department, but it is obvious that Arpaio's immigration sweeps are driven by racial profiling and that he relishes harassing the Latino community in Phoenix. He's already announced he's proceeding with a raid of a Phoenix neighborhood today, unbowed by the Bolton's decision, emboldened by the authority the federal government hasn't revoked.

Ultimately, the only thing that will stop people like Arpaio, who when they hear undocumented immigrants think "easy prey," is comprehensive immigration reform that would finally offer these hard working men and women the protection they deserve and a path to citizenship. Yesterday, here in the nation's capitol and in Los Angeles, hundreds of courageous U.S.-born children marched for immigration reform. They weren't marching for themselves, but for their undocumented parents, which was a stark reminder that with immigration reform we'd also be protecting these children and keeping families together. By organizing these events, groups like CASA de Maryland, Familias Unidas and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles have doubled down to press for the need for dramatic federal action to address the suffering in our communities.

Now that the injunction has been won, Congress should take this pause to do the right thing. They need to stop shirking their responsibility and accept that until they act decisively, ugly episodes like what we're seeing in Arizona will continue to replay in this and other forms in cities and states across the country. Fortunately, our Constitution has prevented the most egregious anti-immigrant legislation from going into effect, but every fight has left scars. And Sheriff Arpaio continues to trample on the rights of people, court decision notwithstanding.

It's unacceptable that because Congress doesn't want to anger virulent anti-immigrant forces, a group that is not representative of the majority of Americans who favor legalization and an earned path to citizenship, immigration reform remains stalled. It's unacceptable that we continue to leave vulnerable a group of people to be exploited by desperate politicians and abusive employers.

Judge Bolton couldn't have been clearer in her decision. Immigration is the federal government's responsibility. It's time they start acting like it.