Mexico Pleased with U.S. Decision to Challenge Arizona's Immigration Law, but Concerns Remain about Long-Term Policy

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, July 21, 2010 | Go to article overview

Mexico Pleased with U.S. Decision to Challenge Arizona's Immigration Law, but Concerns Remain about Long-Term Policy


The reaction was generally positive in Mexico to US President Barack Obama's decision to file a legal challenge to Arizona's tough immigration law, due to go into effect on July 29. But there is greater concern that the US might not be able to address the larger issue of immigration reform any time soon, given the polarized political climate ahead of US congressional elections in November 2010. The immigration issue is so important that the six Mexican governors and two US governors from US-Mexico border states would not let their commitment to boycott Arizona prevent them from meeting to discuss the issue. Instead of Phoenix, the governors will meet in Santa Fe, New Mexico, sometime in mid-September.

US says SB1070 violates federal jurisdiction on immigration

On July 6, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit challenging Arizona's new immigration law in a federal court. Under Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 (SB1070), approved in April, law enforcement officers are not only permitted but required to ask for identification from any person they suspect of having undocumented status (see SourceMex, 2010-04-28).

The administration's lawsuit contends that Arizona's approval of SB1070 violates federal law, since the US Constitution stipulates that enforcement of immigration laws falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government. A big concern for the administration is that SB1070 would set a precedent that other states and entities could follow.

"I agree with the argument that the federal government's authority under the preemption clause will prevail over the Arizona state law," Robert Pugsley, professor of law at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, told The Christian Science Monitor. "Otherwise we could have 50 states writing immigration laws and it would result in the chaos that the preemption clause was specifically created to prevent."

"This is an important step that is likely to succeed," Tonatiuh Guillén, president of the Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF), told the Mexico City daily newspaper El Universal. "The legal route is the only way to prevent the enactment of this law, which is clearly xenophobic, racist, and counter to the constitutional principles of [the US]."

But others say the case is not quite as cut and dried.

"There is good basis to believe the DOJ lawsuit may fail," said Hector Chichoni, a partner at the national law firm Epstein Becker Green, also in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor. "The Arizona law does not necessarily preempt the federal government; rather [it] sets the state and local government as enforcers of what is already available, and on certain cases, mandatory under immigration law."

Proponents of SB1070 argue that the law contains language that prohibits application solely based on a suspect's color, race, or national origin, and the measure is, therefore, not discriminatory. A suspect, they say, would have had to have violated some law to merit a detention.

Others counter this argument by saying that even the smallest violations, such as littering, running a stop sign, or violating a city's noise ordinance, could make someone subject to interrogation. "It is obvious that the law, as written, focuses on a particular ethnic group," said Ediberto Román, a law professor at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami.

Obama's commitment to immigration reform questioned

The Mexican government was clearly pleased by the Obama administration's decision to file the lawsuit. "Mexico expresses its approval of the United States government decision to try and prevent the SB1070 law from taking effect," the Calderon government said in a statement.

The Mexican government also took the opportunity to reiterate its "firm commitment to watch over the protection and the rights of Mexicans overseas."

But some political observers in Mexico wonder whether the Obama administration is truly committed to taking the next step toward comprehensive immigration reform, even though the US president recently asked Congress to begin working on an immigration initiative. …

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