Roberto Suro writes that the goals of Arizona's immigration bill are twofold. First, the bill seeks to challenge the legal precedents that have allowed the federal government to have nearly total control over immigration issues, and second the bill's authors wanted nationwide attention for their solution.
Arizona's immigration law was never going to solve the problem of illegal immigration. That is not its purpose. Instead it is an invitation to a shootout in which there will be no winners. It is more of a provocation than an attempt to enact policy, and as a protest against Washington's failure to fix a broken immigration system, it resonates.
A preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton on Wednesday halted several major parts of the law, but it really did nothing more than set the terms for more litigation. A tortured path to the U.S. Supreme Court seems likely, though even the nine justices won't be able to settle the heart of the matter. If Arizona ultimately wins in court, states could end up obliged to fashion their own immigration controls. If the federal government wins, President Obama could find himself running for reelection on a devilish issue he has done his best to avoid.
The authors of Arizona's SB 1070 set out to accomplish two main goals: They wanted to attack legal precedents that have given the federal government almost total say over immigration matters since the 1890s under a doctrine known as "preemption." They argue that Washington has failed to control illegal migration, so states should have a chance. They also wanted national attention for their solution: a strategy they call "attrition through enforcement." The idea is that if illegal immigrants constantly fear arrest by state and local cops, they'll leave the country on their own. By promising a crackdown in defiance of Washington, Arizona achieved both objectives as soon as the law became a national controversy this spring.