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Could Ariz. Immigration Law Affect Enforcement In San Diego?


Will the battle over how to enforce federal immigration laws affect business as usual in San Diego ?

ALISON ST JOHN (Host): And you’re back on the Editors Roundtable with myself, Alison St John, sitting in for Gloria Penner, JW August, managing director (sic) for Channel 10 News, Alisa Joyce Barba, western bureau chief for National Public Radio, and David Rolland, editor of San Diego CityBeat. So everybody seems to be lining up on one side or the other of the debate over whether Arizona should have the right to enforce federal immigration laws with their local and state law enforcement officers. The federal government’s decided this week to weigh in against it and now thousands of ordinary Americans are chipping in with donations to legal funds to join in the fray. So, Alisa, bring us up to date with where the suit stands and why the outcome’s important for states, particularly California.

ALISA JOYCE BARBA (Western Bureau Chief, National Public Radio): Well, the Department of Justice has filed suit against Arizona, saying – trying to get an injunction to stop enforcement of the law. The law goes into effect on July 29th and it’s a law – basically, it makes it a state crime to be in Arizona illegally. Local police officers are allowed to, if somebody is pulled over or somebody is under some reasonable suspicion of a criminal activity, if that law officer suspects that that person is in the country illegally, they are required to check on their documents. The federal government says that this violates the supremacy clause of the Constitution, which is to say that only the federal government is allowed to deal with these issues of naturalization and who is a citizen in the country. And it says that it – basically that Arizona is muddying the waters essentially and making it difficult for the federal government to do its job to enforce immigration law. Implications are pretty big, I think, nationally. I think that there’s a huge groundswell of support in many places for this law in Arizona. I think that people, you know, people are hurting from the economy and from the recession and, you know, there’s an easy scapegoat, I think, in the immigrant population. But beyond that, I think there’s a huge frustration in Arizona, in California and in many places that this perception that the federal government has not done its job to enforce immigration law and to keep people out of the country who are not here legally. So if the Department of Justice is successful in getting an injunction to stop this law, it will be appealed to the district court and then eventually it could make its way up to the Supreme Court where there is actually some question about whether this very conservative Supreme Court will uphold the supremacy clause in this case or will, in fact, side with Arizona to say that the state should step in and enforce this law.

ST JOHN: So a lot of people have very strong opinions one way or the other on this, and I’d like to invite our listeners to call in and join the program. Our number here is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 888-895-KPBS. JW, do you think that there’s any chance that perhaps this could affect California and that more immigrants will be heading this way as a result of the Arizona law?

JW AUGUST (Managing Editor, KGTV 10News): Well, it’s a good chance. Before, when – any time – if it is implemented, and even if it hasn’t been implemented it’s frightening people enough and it’s buzzing through Mexico and Central America about this. That would change the flow of people coming across the border. Like, you know, like Gatekeeper did with – when they put – enacted Gatekeeper in San Diego back in the eighties and it drove people to the east, into the desert and into Arizona, and that’s when all of that began happening. So it would have an effect.

ST JOHN: Well, California had its own sort of version of this kind of like we’ve had enough of immigration thing back in the early nineties, yeah…


ST JOHN: …with Proposition 187.

AUGUST: Pete Wilson, yeah.

ST JOHN: But the mood now seems to be different, David. I mean, what do you think? Do you think that California, politically speaking it seems like California’s not likely to follow in the footsteps of Arizona on this one.

DAVID ROLLAND (Editor, San Diego CityBeat): Yeah, we typically here, despite 187, which was struck down as being unconstitutional in that it was – you know, you just can’t deny people certain rights. But California typical (sic) has – typically has a more liberal outlook on these things when we…

ST JOHN: Even Meg Whitman seems to have taken a position.

ROLLAND: Yeah, we tend to – we tend to scapegoat people when economic times are rough, and we’re certainly in that time right now. But, at the moment, when, you know, there isn’t quite the same job magnet for people to come over as there are in other times, so…

BARBA: Well, that’s…

ST JOHN: Alisa…

BARBA: …that’s the irony that this has become such a huge political issue now. You remember two or three years ago when all we were talking about was immigration and it was – the economy was going strong, there was 16 million illegal immigrants in this country and they were – they weren’t just in Arizona, they were in Maine and, you know, they, they, they. I don’t mean to put it in those terms but there was a – nationwide, there was this sense of a crisis in our immigration policy. The irony is that it’s still a hot political issue because I think – I think people need scapegoats and because it is something that definitely riles up a lot of people in this country, there’s a sense of our country is changing. The demographic changes, I think, are frightening for a lot of people. But the fact is, is that with this recession and the loss of the job magnet, that illegal immigrant population in this country has plummeted in…

ROLLAND: Umm-hmm.

BARBA: …the last couple years. The number of people coming across the border is way down from where it was before, so it’s no longer that same sense of, you know, the hordes coming north for jobs, it’s no longer happening.

ST JOHN: I mean, one – JW.

AUGUST: Yeah, and it works to the advantage of some elements of the political spectrum because it does – they can beat the drums and raise money and do what they gotta do to bring people into the fold. But, you know what, I – If I may speak frankly, I don’t think Jane Brewer from Arizona’s a very bright lady. I think she reminds me a little – back in my day, there was a guy named Lester Maddox, who did not like black people and sold axe handles in his restaurant. And he rose to a high political position. I think she sees this as a way to stay in office and she gives no thought to really what’s going on in the real world. Why would the police chiefs in Phoenix and – Where was the other…?

BARBA: Tucson.

AUGUST: …in Tucson say, hey, don’t pass this law, don’t do this. We got enough going on in our world without our officers having to worry about this.

ST JOHN: Well…

AUGUST: Why doesn’t she listen to the cops on the street?

ST JOHN: …and is there a possibility that the Operation Gatekeeper that has forced a lot of the immigrants east and that used to come through the border in this state are now going through Arizona, is it possible that that has made the situation in Arizona another…

AUGUST: Oh, no doubt it’s not a good situation for the people of Arizona but it’s a federal law. We don’t change the Constitution because somebody’s done something somewhere. You – The Supreme Court – The federal law is the Supreme Court of the land. That’s – This has been decided a long time ago.

BARBA: Yeah, but…

ST JOHN: Alisa.

BARBA: …by the same token, there are majority of Americans who disagree with you and a majority of Arizonans who disagree with you, who…

AUGUST: That’s true.

BARBA: …who really believe that the situation has gotten out of control.

AUGUST: No doubt.

BARBA: And there’s a lot of misconceptions out there whether it be, you know, that high crime rates are due to illegal immigrants or that they abuse our hospital system or that they come and use our – I mean, there’s a lot of misconceptions and none of which are true but by the same token, there is a sense – certainly, I think with the millions of people going across the Arizona border once the California border became tighter, a sense that it was out of control. I don’t know whether Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, is an intelligent woman or not but I think that she is responding to the desires of her constituents.

ST JOHN: Well, let’s talk…


ST JOHN: …a little bit about San Diego, sort of bring it home a bit here because, you know, we have this debate going on here, too. There is a slightly different take on this from different law enforcements around the county. Are you familiar with, you know, like Escondido, for example, is adopting a slightly different policy. JW, can you talk about that?

AUGUST: Oh, well, they have the two ICE agents working there. But it’s not the same as what Arizona’s doing. But a lot of groups don’t like what goes on in Escondido. They’ve had some issues in the past like the rental laws and the rental ordinances and those sort of things. But at the other side of the spectrum, both San Diego Police and San Diego Sheriff don’t pull people over and ask what country they’re from and if they can see their immigration papers.

ROLLAND: Well, we don’t – we don’t actually know that for certain. I know the ACLU, the local ACLU, does believe that – They get complaints from Latinos frequently from the way they…

AUGUST: Yeah, but it’s not policy.

ROLLAND: Right, well, there is kind of a patchwork of policy as we – as, Alison, as you mentioned, Escondido has largely been, you know, the standard bearer for more hardline immigration policies with their attempts to, you know, at the housing level and checkpoints and that sort of thing. The ACLU has tried to hold Sheriff Bill Gore’s feet to the fire on what the county’s policy is because he has – his public statements have, in the past year or so, have been a little bit muddled on this, on whether or not deputies, you know, what kind of authority that they have to…

ST JOHN: This was an issue…

ROLLAND: …sort of look out for…

ST JOHN: …in the election, wasn’t it? And Sheriff Bill Gore, who won, has said publicly that he does not want to be doing the Border Patrol’s job.

ROLLAND: But he has – but he has made – he made statements particularly with – in an interview with the Union-Tribune editorial board where he’s – he was – he didn’t quite go as far in that direction as, say, the San Diego Police Department.


ST JOHN: Alisa.

BARBA: The county is part of this Secure Communities program where they actually – when somebody is arrested and put in jail, they do check their legal status, they check their legal – So that is, and that’s similar to what’s going on in Escondido. Escondido has two Immigration officers that are part of their police force and so basically somebody’s arrested, somebody’s pulled over and their legal status is checked. And it’s a controversial thing, and we do not do that in San Diego in the city itself.

ST JOHN: 888-895-5727 is the number to join us here on the Editors Roundtable, and Andrew from San Diego you’re on the air. Thanks for calling.

ANDREW (Caller, San Diego): Hi. Thanks for having me. I wanted to make a comment about the supremacy clause that’s being discussed. What you hear very little about in this discussion is the 10th Amendment, which also gives Arizona rights to enforce its own borders that the supremacy clause doesn’t address. You know, the illegal immigrants that are coming into Arizona, they’re not just crossing the federal border, they’re crossing the Arizona state border. And the 10th Amendment gives Arizona the rights to enforce laws within its state borders and to protect its own borders. And I’d like to hear what some of your guests think about that particular comment because you hear very little about it, that the illegal immigrants are crossing the Arizona state border and…

ST JOHN: Because of the 10th Amendment.

ANDREW: Well, the 10th Amendment gives the states rights to enforce its laws not prohibited by the Constitution.

BARBA: Well, you know, I think, as I said, I think that there are going to be some strong arguments, legal arguments, that can be made, whether it’s the 10th Amendment or whether it be the perceived failure of the federal government to enforce its own law. There are going to be some strong legal arguments in favor of the Arizona law, whether they come up in this injunction, in this suit that’s been filed, and, you know, it’s all going to come down in the next two or three weeks, obviously, because July 29th. And there’s some six other suits that have been filed in Arizona by various people who are trying to stop the enforcement of this law. So there are some good and strong legal arguments whether they come up in July in Arizona or they come up before the Court of Appeals or whether they come up before the Supreme Court. It’s all going to be really interesting. And, in fact, how the Supreme Court or how these courts rule in this will have huge implications for all the other states as well.

ST JOHN: Let’s take another call here while we have a few minutes. Sunny from Mission Hills, thanks for calling. Go ahead.

SUNNY (Caller, Mission Hills): Good morning. Thank you very much for taking my call. I would like to just say briefly I’m very pro-migration, I’m very pro-assimilation of folks into our livelihoods. I would like to know why Arizona specifically and other states, the concentration should be on the employers who continue to hire what are described as, quote, illegal aliens. If the word gets out, hey, they’re not hiring, don’t bother to come here, they’re not going to come here. It’s like a drug supplier and a druggie. If there’s no drugs available, then the supplier is going to dry up and go away.

ST JOHN: Sunny, thank you very much for that perspective. JW, why don’t you…

AUGUST: Yeah, right on, Sunny. You’re absolutely correct. And people on both sides of this will tell you that that is one of the issues. That would help cut off the flow, the enforcement of employees – employer sanctions.

ST JOHN: Alisa.

BARBA: And, in fact, Arizona does have a law on its books that was passed about a year ago that makes it illegal for an employer to hire somebody who’s illegal. It’s one of the toughest employer laws in the country.


ST JOHN: David.

ROLLAND: …and the issue here is that business groups are very, very powerful lobbying entities in this country and they have been able to deflect enforcement.

ST JOHN: Can you talk a bit about the business groups here in San Diego that are particularly perhaps, you know, resisting that kind of – because I think, you know, immigration is a very important part of the San Diego economy. We’re right here on the border and it has played an important role.

BARBA: Well, we haven’t passed – I mean, we haven’t passed the same law that Arizona passed that makes it, again, as I said, makes it a crime for you to hire somebody who’s illegal. And they – that legal challenges to that law are actually before the Supreme Court right now, and that may be one of the first signs we have of how the Supreme Court is going to rule in many of these cases which pit the states’ efforts to enforce immigration against federal efforts to enforce immigration.

ROLLAND: Alison, can I…

ST JOHN: David.

ROLLAND: I’d like to respond actually to the previous caller and that 10th Amendment thing.

ST JOHN: Sure.

ROLLAND: I’m not an expert on the 10th Amendment or the supremacy clause. In fact, the coming year (sic) I was kind of lamenting the fact that I’m not an expert on the supremacy clause because I wonder how many other times in other cases, you know, there are – there have been conflicts between state and federal law and it’s been, you know, they’ve been allowed to remain. But immigration is not a state issue so, you know, people are not immigrating into a, you know, across state borders. They’re immigrating across a federal border so I would be surprised if that – if the 10th Amendment defense, you know, held much water because, again, these – this is not a – it’s not a state issue, it’s a federal issue.

ST JOHN: It would perhaps turn it into a state issue, though, if – depending on how this lawsuit goes because if there’s a patchwork of laws about immigration in this country, it’s almost like turning each state into an independent country in itself.

ROLLAND: Well, and I think that’s probably what the Obama administration – that’s the primary motivation there is to nip this in the bud and not allow – because I think there are probably a lot of other states that are following this case and may follow suit, you know, behind, you know, in Arizona’s footsteps. The Obama administration probably doesn’t want chaos.

BARBA: And that’s exactly the term they use. They don’t want a patchwork of different laws. One thing that’s interesting about the Arizona law and I think where they find it in conflict with federal law, federal law does not require the police to check immigration status. The thing about the Arizona law is if the police do not check the immigration status, they can be sued by private citizens for not doing their job.


BARBA: So it puts a huge new responsibility on the backs of the police and that’s why they, in many cases, oppose this.

ST JOHN: And so the police actually don’t want it themselves.

BARBA: Right.

ST JOHN: Let’s take one more call while we have the chance. Here’s Dionne from North Park. Thanks for calling. What’s your point?

DIONNE (Caller, North Park): Hi. I just wanted to make a point that I heard on NPR yesterday, which is there’s a gentleman that’s done studies about our birth rates in the United States and the effect of both legal and illegal immigration and the fact that we are, in fact, replicating ourself. I think our birth rate is 2.2 or something compared to Europe, which is less than 2, which is not self-replicating. And he was discussing that that has an importance with the aging baby boomer population in how our workforce is going to look in the next sort of couple of decades. So I don’t hear a lot of discussion of the benefits of this immigration…

ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.

DIONNE: …legal or illegal and I wondered if you could address that.

ST JOHN: Yes. And it’s interesting. We had another story on our air this morning about how in Mexico they are going to be absorbing many more of the younger generation because they need them, too, just like this country does. David, do you…

ROLLAND: Well, economists have been talking about the effect on retirement, you know, and social security, you know, that younger – Our workforce is aging, you know, and it’s going to be harder and harder for this country to support an increasingly aging population and they’re saying that the one huge economic benefit would be to welcome young, able-bodied immigrants from other countries to come and pay into our system and…

BARBA: To push our – push our…

ROLLAND: …help support our old people.

ST JOHN: Alisa.

BARBA: I was going to say push our wheelchairs?

ST JOHN: Yeah, okay, JW.

AUGUST: By cracky, I want my social security.

ST JOHN: Okay, we’re going to have to wrap it up there but, by the way, this is, you know, embarking on a whole really interesting discussion and that was embarked on yesterday on These Days actually, on the program here on KPBS. So to be continued. We have to move on now but stay with us. Coming up right after the break we will be speaking about new developments on the front of how to deal with the homeless population here in San Diego.

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