Like the health-care reform debate, the immigration fight also highlights conflicting approaches to a difficult national problem. The question is how best to address a chronic crisis of porous borders and rampant illegal immigration. There are currently an estimated 10 to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US.
The problem is not unique to Arizona, nor is the federal-state legal battle. In addition to the Arizona law, the Obama administration is fighting to overturn tough immigration-related state laws passed in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Utah, and South Carolina.
The illegal immigration problem escalated in Arizona after border controls in Texas and California were beefed up following the 9/11 attacks. Arizona’s 370-mile border with Mexico has become a high-risk danger zone with the combination of human smuggling and the operations of violent Mexican drug cartels. Arizona spends several hundred million dollars a year in law enforcement costs, as well as to provide education and health care to illegal immigrants, according to the state’s brief to the high court.
The Obama administration’s secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, knows the situation in Arizona well. In 2005, when she was Arizona’s governor, she declared a state of emergency because of escalating border violence and criticized the federal government for failing to effectively police the border.