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The Moral Behind Arizona's Draconian Immigration Bill

Most of the reaction to Arizona's passage of a draconian immigration bill -- one that is almost identical to the 2006 bill that set off mass immigration-rights protests across the country -- has focused on whether it will lead to racial profiling. SB 1070, which was approved by the state Legislature Tuesday and is expected to be signed by Gov. Jan Brewer, makes undocumented presence in the state a criminal, rather than a civil, offense.

It also empowers local law-enforcement officials to determine the citizenship status of a person if there is a "reasonable suspicion" he or she is undocumented. "Reasonable suspicion," civil-liberties groups and journalists worry, could be nothing more than dark skin.

As Adam Luna points out, the "anti-discrimination" provision it contains -- which says race cannot be the only reason someone is questioned -- is strikingly similar to amendments used by segregationists to try to eviscerate the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But the bigger problem is that it offers poor protection against abuse; it allows officers to supplement a racial profile with a reason that on its own would not have constituted "reasonable suspicion."

The new power the law grants police officers is indeed abhorrent, but I think many commentators are missing the forest through the trees. This law, which civil-rights attorneys have pledged to challenge, was made possible by the inability of the federal government to deal with the broken immigration system.

Federal inaction has -- by default -- ceded authority over our immigration system to rogue local officials like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known best for making undocumented detainees wear pink underwear while suffering under the desert sun in makeshift detention camps and conducting mass immigration raids around Phoenix. The passage of SB 1070 in Arizona underscores the urgent need for the Obama administration to take up immigration reform as soon as possible, both to override this radical bill and because it's the right thing to do.

Gabriel Arana is on staff at The American Prospect. He lives in Washington, D.C.


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