There are no easy fixes, but a bit of leadership from Washington on the immigration issue might go some way toward generating a problem-solving sensibility. Arizonans, like many Americans, are right to be anxious about the federal government’s largely ineffective and immensely expensive policies of border control and immigration enforcement. The surge of illegal immigration over the past two decades has in many ways enriched our economy and communities. But—occurring outside the law and in the absence of a shared national plan of sustainable economic growth—illegal immigration contributed to the erosion of our society’s sense of community.
In this context Arizona’s institution of SB 1070 may be understandable. But clearly its go-it-alone approach to a common problem only further divides Arizonans and the nation. The Obama administration is right to challenge the law; however, its own avid enforcement of immigration laws—resulting in record-breaking levels of prosecution, incarceration, and deportation of immigrants—is, in any honest assessment, more shameful than Arizona’s as-yet unenforced immigration-crackdown.
Immigration control is a federal responsibility, and it is the duty of the Obama administration and federal lawmakers (including the Arizona congressional delegation, led by John McCain) to outline for Americans a vision of sustainable immigration and to pass a just and enforceable immigration-reform package. Similarly, the federal government is responsible for drug policy, and its support for drug prohibition at home and drug wars abroad is a central cause of cross-border smuggling, mass incarceration, and horrific gang-related violence across Arizona’s border with Mexico—as well as being a major source of the rising political influence of border- security hawks.
In the wake of the Tucson massacre, border-security and anti-immigration rhetoric has been toned down a notch or two. And the enormity of the budget crisis may yet create new political space in Phoenix for realistic, less ideological debate over budget priorities.
Whether Arizona can steady itself remains to be seen. But there is little reason for optimism. America’s new model state may already be a failed state.