Treating Illegal Immigrants as Criminals

Arizona’s controversial new immigration law is not much different from the federal version. But according to Houston-area immigration lawyer Annie Banerjee, treating all 11 million of the nation’s illegal immigrants as criminals is not just overwhelming, it’s insane.

On its face, Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, Senate Bill 1070, is “like two peas from the same pod,” according to Houston-area immigration lawyer Annie Banerjee, when you also consider what she calls “the federal version.” But there’s also a difference of degree in the Arizona statute. “Arizona wants every illegal immigrant caught and deported, that’s insane,” she says. Considering that an estimated 11 million immigrants may have already entered the U.S. illegally, it would also almost certainly overwhelm the system.

In its recent lawsuit challenging the Arizona law, the Justice Department asserts that its policy is to focus on dangerous immigrants: gang members, drug traffickers, threats to national security. “That’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not strictly true,” asserts Banerjee, “there have been quite a few serious abuses involved with enforcement of the federal version too.”

The sentiment in Arizona preaches that an overwhelmed system is no excuse for not deporting illegal aliens. “If it’s really the case that they don’t have enough resources to enforce the laws that Congress has passed, it would seem it’s incumbent on them to go back to Congress and ask for more resources,” said Steven Camarota, research director at the center for Immigration Studies, a group that favors stricter enforcement of immigration laws. “But since they don’t do that, it sort of undermines the argument.”

“I don’t know what he’s smoking,” counters Banerjee, “that’s ludicrous to say. To use all of law enforcement’s resources to expel foreign nationals who are here in violation of our immigration law, would mean that the cops wouldn’t have time to do anything else. Forget about solving most violent crimes. It just wouldn’t happen.”

State lawmakers argue that the federal government already enlists local authorities to identify illegal immigrants who have been arrested for other crimes. The new law, they say, just extends that to police patrols.

The federal government says the law goes too far by making it a state crime to be in Arizona illegally and requiring police to question the immigration status of anyone they encounter who is believed to be undocumented. “If only they’d crack down on abuses committed in the name of the federal law,” Banerjee lamented.

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