Arizona law highlights need for reform
Love it or hate it, Arizona's new statute that authorizes law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people they think are in the country illegally draws attention to an issue of great importance to local governments: the need for comprehensive immigration reform. The Washington-based International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the National Association of Counties (NACo) say divisiveness over the issue can and must be overcome.
NACo has been monitoring immigration reform legislation now under consideration in the Senate, says Arlington County, Va., Supervisor Walter Tejada, chairman of NACo's Task Force on Immigration Reform. "Regardless of your point of view, I think what [the Arizona immigration law] has done is bring more attention and highlight that the federal government has failed to do [its] job," Tejada says.
Congress must not "punt" on resolving the issue, Tejada says. "I would say that, while as difficult and divisive as the issue is, I strongly believe it does not have to be that way," Tejada says.
If the Senate bill fails, ICMA will have to lobby states that consider laws similar to Arizona's to include local input, says Dr. Nadia Rubaii-Barrett, associate professor of public administration at New York's Binghamton University and author of ICMA's whitepaper, "Immigration Reform: An Intergovernmental Imperative," released last year. But, in the end, the federal government must step up to enforce immigration restraints, she says. "Local governments should be able to count on national policy to keep out people who are illegal so that the local officials can focus on whoever lives here," she says. "We want them to be integrated and productive members of the community, and we should have a system that allows local governments to do that."
Immigration wish list
In a NACo survey released Jan. 13, county officials spelled out the shape they want immigration reform to take. Their most pressing issues:
- Eliminating the piecemeal approach to immigration
- Establishing clear federal laws and enforcement policies
- Improving community relations and perceptions