July 27, 2010
Across the country, the debate rages on over the Obama administration's decision to file suit against the state of Arizona over its recently passed immigration legislation. The President has called the law "misguided." Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano dismissed the law as "bad law enforcement." Attorney General Eric Holder fears the law will lead to racial profiling, and countless politicians and civil rights activists have condemned the measure as a thinly-veiled smokescreen for racism.
Amidst such a cloud of inflammatory rhetoric, its easy to lose sight of the most troubling issue at play in this battle between the federal government and one of its member states - that is, the gross abuse of constitutional authority at play at the White House and Justice Department.
Imagine for a moment that you are a property owner whose neighborhood has been repeatedly victimized by acts of trespassing, theft, murder, and other forms of criminal violence. You and your neighbors have had your property vandalized, your possessions stolen, and members of your family have been threatened and in some cases physically harmed. For months, heck, for years, you and your neighbors have repeatedly contacted local law enforcement authorities to report the crimes against your property, and for years you have been told that help is on the way. But help never comes. The police say they have the matter under control; they say that the security of your person and property is their top priority, and yet they continue to do nothing in the face of the growing menace. It slowly becomes clear that you and your neighbors have been abandoned. The police aren't coming to help you, they don't have the problem under control, and by all indications there is little chance that this state of affairs is going to change anytime soon.
Suffice it to say, such a scenario would only go on so long before you and your neighbors became desperate. Overcome by frustration and growing fear and convinced of no other options, neighborhood residents decide to take matters into their own hands in order to protect themselves.
In such a situation, it wouldn't seem unreasonable for the residents to take legal action against the police department. After all, the police's primary reason for existence is to protect the people from assaults on their persons and property. But no! Instead of the people, whose lives have been threatened and property damaged, suing the police, the police announce they are bringing suit against the residents for illegally usurping the role of law enforcement. "If your lives and property are being threatened," so the argument goes, "the only entity legally authorized to protect you is us, the police. Whether or not we choose to actually protect you is irrelevant; you have no right to take action on your own behalf."
Such a scenario is ludicrous, yet this is exactly what's happening in Arizona. The citizens of the state have been living under the siege of illegal immigration for years. What for most of us is an abstract political or humanitarian issue is for Arizonans a daily battle to protect life, property, and vital resources. The recent passage of bold new immigration legislation was the people's way of saying they'd had enough. For too long they'd waited for the federal calvary to come, and for too long the infamous Poobahs of the Potomac did nothing - bickering and dickering and dithering while the citizens struggled against a growing wave of illegal immigration. And in response to Arizona's recent attempt to protect itself, these self-important, self-serving do-nothings are suing! "It's our job to secure the borders and prosecute illegal immigration" they say. "This is our area of authority, and you have no legal right to defend yourselves, regardless of whether we choose to defend you or not."
By suing the state of Arizona for "unconstitutionally" passing immigration legislation, the federal government is tacitly acknowledging its dereliction of duty - they have admitted that there is a dangerous and dire problem along America's southern border that they aren't addressing. But instead of fulfilling their constitutional obligation to protect the victims of illegal immigration, they are victimizing them twice over by prosecuting them for daring to try to protect themselves.
Not only is this a gross example of federal bureaucratic arrogance run amok, it is a severe assault on the Constitution and our republic. Despite what the President and his Attorney General might choose to believe, the issue of illegal immigration is not merely political - it is a grave matter of national security. The recent passage of immigration legislation in Arizona wasn't a "misguided" act motivated by racism, it was a desperate act of self-defense.
The consequences of the federal government's choice to sue one of its states in this manner will not be minimal. Hopefully the people of Arizona will prevail in their battle to protect their borders and their property. Other states are poised to follow suit. When all is said and done, it's likely that it will be the President, not the people of Arizona, who was guilty of making a misguided decision.
Ken Connor is an attorney and co-author of "Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty." He is also Chairman of the Center for a Just Society.