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Let the Lawsuits Begin!

April 26, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

AZ law protest

Last week, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070, that will require police to investigate a person's immigration status if they have "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the country illegally.  The law takes effect in three months.

It will take effect, that is, if it can survive the first round of legal challenges expected to be filed.  Judging by the reaction so far, that will be a long shot. 

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) issued a statement saying that "MALDEF and others will be pursuing all legal avenues to challenge this law," and that,

"We have every expectation, based upon judicial precedent and unquestioned constitutional values, that SB 1070 will be enjoined before it can ever take effect."

Another group announcing legal action is the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC) Legal Defense Fund, which represents 300 Latino evangelical churches and pastors in Arizona and said it is moving "expeditiously" to challenge the law on constitutional grounds. 

Last Friday, speaking at a naturalization ceremony for military personnel at the White House, President Obama condemned the Arizona law and said,

"I’ve instructed members of my administration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation."

Over the weekend, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon had an op-ed published in the Washington Post strongly condemning the Arizona law and urging Governor Brewer to call a special session of the legislature to fix the law's flaws.  Until she does, Gordon said,

"we will explore every option available to quell the fear and frustration that have become rampant here. Already, I have called a special meeting of the Phoenix City Council to establish standing to sue the state on the grounds that S.B. 1070 unconstitutionally co-opts our police force to enforce immigration laws that are the rightful jurisdiction of the federal government."

Former Arkansas Governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee appeared on Fox news over the weekend and said that the Arizona law will be a "lawsuit bonanza."

"…it’s going to open Arizona up to a plethora of lawsuits. I think it's just a fact that you'll have so many lawsuits that it will be very very costly to the state of Arizona."

How costly?  One town in Texas, Farmer's Branch, enacted a law in 2006 requiring landlords to verify the immigration status of potential renters.  According to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the town has already spent $3.2 million in legal fees related to this ordinance, which was struck down in federal court.  It plans to spend at least another $150,000 on an appeal.

The Immigration Policy Center wrote this blog post giving some idea of what it might cost the state for law enforcement costs, jail processing costs, attorneys' fees—plus the collateral damage that may result from the Arizona economy if Latinos leave the state.

If there is one good thing to come out of the Arizona legislation, it is to create a new sense of urgency for Congress to act to reform our immigration laws.  There have been a number of reports in the press about immigration reform making its way to the top of the Congressional agenda.

This prompted Lindsey Graham, the lone Republican who has been working with Democrats to draft immigration reform and climate change legislation, to say he would pull his support of climate change legislation unless it were scheduled before immigration reform.

"The only reason I went forward is, I thought we had a shot if we got the business and environmental community behind our proposal, and everybody was focused on it. What's happened is that firm, strong commitment disappeared."

This itself is a sad comment on the state of Congress.  It's April.  Graham is essentially saying that the Senate can do only one thing between now and … October.  For it's part, the Administration is saying it believes both can be done.  If Graham could convince his Republican colleagues to spend more time contributing to the policy debate, and less time plotting their next filibuster, business would move more swiftly in the Senate.

In her signing statement, Governor Brewer noted something we can all agree with:

"We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act. But decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation."

It is way past time for Congress to act.

Image from Reform Immigration FOR America on Flickr.

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