Immigration: Supreme Court's Arizona-law ruling meaningless, says Tom Tancredo

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As we reported yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down portions of SB-1070, Arizona's controversial immigration law, but left standing the "show me your papers" provision, which lets officers ask about the immigration status of those found to be suspicious. Many local immigration activists were upset by this last development -- but Tom Tancredo, among the best-known advocates for a stricter system, says the fed's lack of cooperation makes the ruling largely inconsequential.

"I think it's encouraging for both sides," Tancredo allows. "Both sides can go away from this saying, 'We won something here.' But my gut tells he it doesn't really matter."

Why? Tancredo's answer turns on his critical view of the Obama administration's current immigration polices.

"Although [Arizona governor] Jan Brewer is saying it's a great win for Arizona, the reality is this: A policeman in Arizona can legally stop someone on whatever grounds, and if they do, and if they have suspicions this person is here illegally, they can detain him and call ICE" -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency. "And you know what it means in reality to call ICE and say, 'I have someone I think is here illegally'? Nothing. Nothing is done about it.

"It isn't as if ICE will all of a sudden be right at the jail to snap people up and deport them, unless there's another crime that has been committed that meets a certain standard of heinousness," Tancredo continues. "Unless it's a very, very serious crime, ICE is going to say, 'This person is probably illegal? Well, thanks for calling.' So it's a victory without much meaning."

To illustrate his argument, Tancredo points to the decision yesterday by Homeland Security to revoke what are known as 287(g) agreements in Arizona and beyond. Tancredo describes them like so: "Let's say Lakewood entered into a written agreement that the local authority would ID the people they've got in custody through ICE, and ICE promised to come and get them. If you had this agreement, you sort of felt ICE was bound by it.... But now, Homeland Security has reneged on those agreements -- and if the federal government doesn't want to enforce the law, it doesn't matter what the Supreme Court has done. There are no consequences, and we're stuck with the dictator-in-chief."

Click to continue reading our interview with Tom Tancredo about the Supreme Court's SB-1070 ruling. Regarding the portions of SB-1070 the Supreme Court struck down, he thinks the ripple effects may mean more than the initial splash. "For me, the stuff about whether or not a state can require someone to produce documents saying they're here legally, or making it illegal to apply for a job, and doing so on a preemptive basis, is more interesting when you think about what it means in terms of federal law. It seems to mean no state can have a more aggressive enforcement of a crime than is in federal law. Think about it in terms of penalties for bank robbery or kidnapping. If a state's penalties for those crimes is more severe than the federal government's, I would think all of those laws are now in question."

Some opponents of SB-1070 fear the Supreme Court's actions will inspire other states to introduce legislation similar to the section that passed muster. If they do so, however, Tancredo believes their efforts will be less effective than if they pass E-Verify, which requires employers to electronically confirm the immigration status of the workers they hire.

"E-Verify has already been held to be constitutional at the state level," Tancredo maintains, "and if you pass it, 90 percent of your problems go away -- which is why it's the one thing that opponents of true reform hate.... If you can't get a job in this country because you're here illegally, then you don't come, and those that are here illegally go home for the most part. There will be some slippage, but for the most part, that's really all it takes."

The problem with the original Arizona law, Tancredo believes, is that it was "based on the idea that the federal government would do something about it -- and they won't. So dealing with the reality of the situation, E-Verify doesn't require the federal government to do anything. It just requires the state government to enforce it. Putting something on the books isn't enough if you don't do that.

"The rest of this," he adds, "is kind of irrelevant to me."

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More from our Politics archive: "Tom Tancredo's Dog the Bounty Hunter-Joe Arpaio Grizzly Rose fundraiser photo gallery."

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