After all the misrepresentations and half-truths (from both sides of the debate) that have come out concerning the controversial Arizona Immigration Law, and the federal government’s lawsuit challenging its constitutionality, one might think that the pundits have run out of things to argue about. One would be mistaken.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was recently quoted objecting to the fact that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed representatives of foreign governments to file amicus briefs in the case about the law. Her objection sounds a bit hysterical – she calls it a direct attack on our natural sovereignty, and meddling in domestic legal disputes – which this might look like at first blush.
In case you don’t know, amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs are routinely filed in appellate cases. Essentially, the procedure allows someone who isn’t a party to the case, but has some interest in its outcome, to have their arguments heard by the court. They carry absolutely no legal authority, and it’s entirely up to individual judges to decide how much weight their arguments will be given.
I’ve blogged about the Arizona immigration law before, particularly the federal government’s opposition to it, particularly the fact that nobody in the media seems to actually understand what’s going on here (or, if they do, they’re not letting on), which leads to the general public only having a vague, at best, understanding of the situation. In an election season, with emotions and partisan rancor running particularly high, it’s no surprise that a Republican politician, at risk of falling out of the good graces of the “Tea Party” would repeat these statements, with little regard for their accuracy. The statement of Governor Brewer is so misinformed that, frankly, I don’t see how it can be anything other than a cheap election-year publicity stunt.
In case you’ve forgotten, let’s recap what this case is about: it is pretty well-settled that, under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government has exclusive control over all matters related to immigration. Arizona passed a law a while back requiring police officers, during an arrest or traffic stop, to verify the immigration status of anyone they suspect might be in the country illegally. But, of course, racial profiling is strictly prohibited under the law. So I’m sure there’s nothing worry about on that front! On an unrelated note, I just saw a leprechaun riding a unicorn.
It’s understandable that these governments would want to be able to represent the interests of their citizens, particularly those who are in the United States legally, but might still be burdened by the application of this law. Furthermore, amicus briefs by foreign governments are routine practice in the United States. It makes perfect sense that U.S. courts should allow foreign governments to file amicus briefs (which have absolutely no legal effect, remember) in its courts, when the outcome of a case could affect the interests of its citizens in the U.S. The United States often advocates for the interests of its citizens abroad, including filing briefs in foreign courts where a U.S. citizen in involved, or which might affect the interests of U.S. citizens in a particular country. If we want to continue to be able to do this, we should probably let other countries do the same.
These comments by Governor Brewer raise a more important issue, however: there is no disagreement that we need some type of immigration reform, but immigration law is complicated, and it’s the duty of politicians and the media to help the public have a decent understanding of the many different issues involved. When politicians deliberately bend the truth to score some political points in the short term, and the media fails to call them out on this, the debate is rendered pointless, because people on both sides of the issue don’t really understand what’s being debated. This is painfully evident when you look at the media discussion about this immigration law.
While this may help 24-hour news channels bump their ratings, or give political candidates a boost in the polls, it’s completely counter-productive to real immigration reform. The current immigration system is, to be frank, a mess. It’s confusing, complicated, and even experienced immigration attorneys occasionally get tripped up trying to resolve a particularly complicated issue. Life would be easier for everyone if this system were simplified.
Now, even with American immigration law being in the state it’s in, I still believe that everyone should obey the law, and that illegal immigrants should be dealt with according to the law. However, if the immigration system were simplified, providing an easier path to legal entry for more people, significant resources could be saved and diverted to enforcing the new (hopefully simpler) laws dealing with illegal immigrants, which would be better for everyone.
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