When it comes to immigration, 2011 will be remembered as the year Alabama enacted HB56, the most mean spirited state immigration law in U.S. history. It targets Latinos and other people of color and effectively mandates racial profiling by state law enforcement agents. Since it went into effect last Fall, Alabamans have been victimized by due process violations, acute shortages of essential workers, and the creation of a climate of fear which has led many Latinos—legal and illegal—to flee the state. The media has been full of graphic images of produce rotting in unattended Alabama fields and idle machinery abandoned amid the flight of terrified workers. Alabama officials have been repeatedly embarrassed by the shocking arrests of foreign auto executives detained by local law enforcement for failure to produce immigration papers. As 2011 draws to a close, Alabama politicians, including Governor Robert Bentley, who signed HB56 into law, are seriously considering dropping its most draconian sections.
If Alabama’s HB56 dominated the immigration developments in 2011, Arizona’s SB1070 will be sure to dominate in 2012. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the Obama Administration’s constitutional challenge to Arizona’s immigration law, enacted in 2010 but temporarily blocked by the courts. The effect of the Supreme Court’s ruling on immigration policy—and beyond—should not be underestimated. Should the Court strike down SB1070 it will reaffirm, in a loud and clear voice, that immigration policy is exclusively a federal matter, inextricably tied to the idea of the United States as a sovereign nation. However, should the Court uphold SB1070 other states will certainly follow Arizona’s and Alabama’s lead, resulting in a disparate patchwork of state immigration laws throughout America. The challenge then may no longer be limited to the federal government’s plenary power to regulate immigration, but to the very idea of the United States as an indivisible nation. Stay tuned.
2011 will also be remembered as the year of immigration enforcement. Nearly half a million people were deported from the U.S., undercutting those that claim the Administration has not enforced the law. To the contrary, President Obama—for better or worse—has deported more illegal aliens than any president before him, including his predecessor, George W. Bush. But amid all the removals in 2011, Obama tried a new, potentially very effective tool—common sense immigration enforcement. In a policy announced in June, the Administration directed ICE to focus its energy on the deportation of violent criminals, drug dealers, and terrorists. And while Obama cannot grant citizenship to any undocumented immigrant, he can certainly direct immigration agents to use their common sense in enforcing the law.
As 2011 draws to a close the big question remains: When, if ever, will Congress overhaul America’s broken immigration system; or even pass the DREAM Act, which would help promising undocumented youth earn their way to lawful status. But 2012 is an election year, and the reality is that the politicians in Washington will not touch an issue as explosive as immigration reform.
In the meantime, Americans can only hope that whomever they send to Washington in November will roll up their sleeves and get to work on an immigration policy that creates American jobs, protects American families, restores due process, and ensures America’s competitiveness in a global economy.