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Bad immigration laws wilt under own weight

Some political candidates campaigned last fall with a promise to “Take Back Our Country” and urged states to follow Arizona’s lead in enacting state immigration laws that would fill the void left by a neglectful federal government.

The fervor grew intense as they whipped up a lather of fear. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer talked about headless bodies being dumped near the border with Mexico (which she later retracted), and Sen. John McCain, once a leading voice for national immigration reform, flopped and ran TV ads of his furrowed brow near the border walls.

The claim was that America was under siege, and emboldened states were bound to do something about it. That was less than a year ago.

Since then, the immigration bloom has dried out in the desert because of federal court rulings, political fatigue, a choppy economy and more urgent needs in a shrinking pool of government funds.

The fever in Arizona, a political hothouse for anti-immigrant sentiments, has chilled.

― On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton that blocked key provisions of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which included measures for police to question people “of reasonable suspicion” about their immigration status. The U.S. Justice Department challenged the law in court, calling it an unconstitutional intrusion into the federal province of immigration enforcement. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually will resolve the matter.

― In late March, the Arizona Senate killed Senate Bills 1308 and 1309, which would have created a second tier of birth certificates for people born in the United States to an undocumented immigrant or legalized resident and which would have severed 14th Amendment rights that grant automatic citizenship to people born in the United States.

Who derailed the Arizona birthright legislation, which would have blatantly flouted the U.S. Constitution? Senate Republicans, who were reacting to pleas from 60 CEOs in Arizona and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, who asked them to tone down the anti-immigrant rhetoric because it’s bad for business and tourism.

― Maricopa County audits this week show that Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the firebrand crusader against illegal immigration in the Phoenix area, inappropriately spent $99 million from two county jail funds over eight years to bankroll immigration raids and other non-jail related expenses.

So much for the anti-tax, anti-government platform in a Republican-laden state with a devastated economy and a budget that is being shredded.

Arizona’s laws and tactics were touted as a national model. Arizona-style immigration laws were introduced into at least 20 state legislatures, including Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, Georgia and Oklahoma.

Now, bad state immigration laws appear to be wilting under their own political weight. But it is a temporary lapse that will end during next year’s presidential and congressional elections.

Shelving unconstitutional state laws deflects some short-term misery, but it does nothing to address the monumental issue of federal immigration reform, which neither Democrats nor Republicans will dare to address before the 2012 elections.

So the plight of some of the 38 million foreign-born people in the United States, more than two-thirds of whom have legal residence, remains in limbo as they seek to unite their families and legally find work in tough times.

One day, U.S. employers’ need for legal immigrant workers ― both highly skilled and lesser skilled ― should be elevated as a vital economic necessity.

(The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 15)