There can be little doubt that the intent behind Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070, is to drive undocumented people out of the state, either through direct deportation or by making life so inhospitable in Arizona that they would slip into other neighboring states. But detailed research by an Arizona-based news outlet concludes that the law could actually make it easier for undocumented immigrants with clean arrest records to stay in the state on a path to legal citizenship.
According to a story published in the Arizona Capitol Times, illegal immigrants who are detained for immigration violations – and who have not committed an aggravated felony and have not previously been deported – are eligible for release under certain conditions while they await various processing steps through the monumentally backlogged immigration court system.
Right now, federal immigration courts are backed up so severely that it can take as many as five years to schedule trials for illegal immigrants who challenge deportation, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities are so overloaded that thousands of illegal immigrants are released back into Arizona each year to live and work while waiting for a deportation hearing.
But this program is not a matter of simply dumping people back into the population to disappear from view to continue living illegally. It actually grants the immigrants some degree of legal status while they progress through the legal system.
The arrest-and-release policy is a little-known part of federal immigration law that allows illegal immigrants to challenge deportation and obtain legal residency, and a driver’s license, as long as they meet certain conditions. If more illegal immigrants are apprehended and processed through the federal system – which is expected to happen after Arizona’s immigration law takes effect on July 29 – then an even greater number would qualify for legal status.
Because many of the relevant stats are not tracked, it’s impossible to know exact numbers, but what is known is that over 5,100 undocumented immigrants processed through the federal immigration courts in Arizona last year were released on bond, and that “the vast majority” were eligible for work authorization documents, according to the Arizona Capitol Times. That means that people picked up for being in the country illegally were released from detention and given the means to live and work in the country – and the state of Arizona – legally.
It’s safe to say that Russell Pearce, the Republican state senator who authored SB 1070, wasn’t angling for giving “illegals” a means to live and work in Arizona legally and a potential path to American citizenship when he proposed the legislation. But that could be a major side effect of the law’s enforcement.
“I call SB1070, ‘Russell Pearce’s guest-worker program.’ You’ll have so many people who will be eligible (for release) and employment authorization documents,” said Kevin Gibbons, an immigration attorney who ran unsuccessfully against Pearce for the District 18 Senate seat in 2008.
The big problem is that the law is going to put even greater strain on an immigration system that was already underfunded and stretched to the breaking point. Already, before SB 1070 goes into effect, final hearing dates on immigration cases in Arizona are being scheduled for 2013 and beyond. Once the new law takes effect and local and state police begin identifying undocumented people and turning them over to ICE, the system will have to find a way to absorb them. The number of jail cells and judges is not going to increase, so the method of absorption will have to be, by default, court dates five or ten or even more years into the future, and even more people released on bond as they await those dates.
Pearce, predictably, blames all of this on “immigration lawyers” who “tie up the system and play games” and “fabricate issues or exaggerate issues.” Because due process, apparently, would be a very swift and simple thing if everyone would just stipulate at the outset that the state should get its way and everyone appearing before the court is just guilty, damn it! The system would work, too, if it wasn’t for those meddling lawyers. (And btw, get off his lawn.)
But again, the backlog is mostly about money. If Pearce and other conservatives were really concerned about the functioning of the court system, they would be trying to pass legislation to increase the funding for that system. The fact that they don’t, and the fact that they passed a law that will certainly increase the number of people being processed through that overworked system without granting additional funding to compensate, suggests that they either don’t understand how the system works and the effects their new law will have on that process, or they just don’t care.
Either way, it really looks like the main point of SB 1070 was to purge Arizona of those pesky non-whites who speak with accents and take all the jobs that the white people of Arizona wouldn’t do on a bet (which is why most of those jobs are there for “illegals” in the first place). But the side effects could definitely be interesting.