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Arizona in the Immigration Spotlight (Again)

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s signature today enacting a controversial immigration law ripped the scab off a wound that never really healed after the failure of national reform in 2007. In those intervening years, states and localities have stepped into the breach, passing scads of measures on immigration.

The Arizona law would seem the culmination of the trend.

Among its most stringent and divisive tactics is the provision that would grant police the authority to stop anyone suspected of being present in the country illegally. The act is intended to “discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States.” Critics, including President Obama, charge that it will encourage racial profiling while discouraging immigrants from asking for help from law enforcement when they need it.

Brewer’s signature demonstrates that Arizona--already well-known on this front due to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s law enforcement strategies--continues to lead the nation on tough immigration enforcement. Arizona’s immigrant population skyrocketed in the 1990s and 2000s until the recession struck. Now Phoenix, once one of the fastest growing destinations for immigrant newcomers, has seen a significant decline in its foreign-born population. 

A veto might have been seen as a call for a widespread, strategic federal response, putting pressure on Congress to address immigration reform sensibly, responsibly, and very swiftly. Despite some recent jockeying on Capitol Hill, it remains to be seen whether politics will allow a bipartisan solution on this highly politicized and emotional issue in a rational way.

Governor Brewer has cracked the immigration reform debate wide open again. This time, it seems even more urgent for Congress to act to provide coherent and reasonable leadership on an issue that should be in the hands of federal lawmakers.