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Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Currently, America’s immigration policies undermine the health of the economy; weaken our diplomatic relationships (especially with our Southern neighbors) and endanger national security. They also leave millions of undocumented migrants and their children in a legal grey zone, making them vulnerable to exploitation.

As important as immigration reform is, it had become lost amidst the long list of other national issues that needed to be addressed. The Obama administration and Congress were preoccupied with health care reform and saving the financial system from implosion.

However, as federal reform stalled, one state decided to take matters into its own hands.

Last Friday, Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, signed the state’s own version of immigration reform, an anti-illegal immigrant bill, into law.

The law allows Arizona’s police officers to request immigration documents from people that they suspect of being an illegal immigrant. It makes it illegal under state law to be without appropriate documentation. Anyone who is unable to produce these papers can be charged with a misdemeanor and be punished by up to $2,500 in fines and six months in jail. It will also leave local and state government agencies perceived to be impeding this law’s enforcement ope n to lawsuits and fines.

This law is unconstitutional. The U.S. Constitution gives the federal government the sole responsibility to set and enforce immigration policy. Arizona’s law illegally co-opts federal responsibility for border control and gives it to local hands. Immigration has never been a state responsibility.

Arizona’s politicians have opened the door wide for harassment and legalized government-sanctioned racial profiling. While Governor Brewer has repeatedly insisted that racial profiling will not be tolerated, this law cannot be enforced without it. To think that it can be is both naïve and cynical.

The law is thinly veiled bigotry. Xenophobic laws championed by opportunistic politicians are nothing new, especially in times of economic turmoil. Gov. Jan Brewer’s attempt to shore up her reelection campaign is cheap populism.

It is time we stop allowing history to repeat itself.

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