President Obama has a closed-door meeting today with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. DC is abuzz. What to call it? Is it a huddle, showdown, summit, smackdown or negotiation? The state’s aggressive immigration law SB 1070 is on the agenda. Both the White House and the governor’s office have kept mum about what they expect from the meeting, but safe to say, it will be awkward: the Department of Justice is preparing to file a lawsuit asserting SB 1070 is an unconstitutional attempt by the state to snatch immigration policy out of the hands of the federal government. How very delicate.
There will no doubt be talk about SB 1070 in the context of border security, the need for immigration reform that creates a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants and the realpolitik of getting that done.
But, oh, how much more satisfying it would be if Obama were to dive straight into the heart of this dysfunctional relationship between federal and local enforcement of immigration law.
To wit, it’s time to break up. It’s time for Obama to make the status switch from “it’s complicated” to “single.” If he can’t manage to break things off at today’s meeting, Obama can always send a Dear John letter to Jan …
First, let me say that you’re a lovely lady and very special. This is not an easy letter to write, but I think we both know it’s long overdue.
When we first got together, I thought it would be a good idea to involve local law enforcement in federal immigration enforcement. It seemed so right. It seemed so obvious: your police officers and sheriff’s deputies, working alongside my border patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Who couldn’t use a little help? And you were so enthusiastic about getting together.
I see now I completely misunderstood your enthusiasm. I thought your people asked for 287(g) powers because you wanted to help the federal government carry out our immigration policies. But, now, I see you were only using me. I don’t want to sound accusatory, but I think the evidence is pretty convincing: you wanted federal ICE powers for your own political purposes. It makes you popular among a certain crowd. Your friend Sheriff Joe Arpaio used the 287(g) powers to intimidate Latinos. He sets up roadblocks to catch immigrants, some of whom have papers and others who do not. He brags about a vigilante force of armed civilians he has deputized as his posse.
You have never cared about my policies or my needs. Even when I told you that you were sending us the wrong people – that we are not interested in deporting people arrested for driving without a seatbelt or for minor infractions – you kept doing it. You just didn’t listen.
I’ll take responsibility for my part in this relationship. I should have paid more attention when things started going wrong. When you started using the phrase “local immigration policy,” I should have seen there’s a problem. You know that there’s no such thing. Immigration policy is federal. So, when you started acting as if immigration policy were a local matter, I should have made it clear that immigration is a matter of national policy, period. It’s up to the federal government to determine and enforce immigration policy, not each of the 50 states or the 3,140 counties within those states. That would be chaos. You understand, don’t you?
And I probably didn’t set the best example. The right thing to do is to create a clear and fair path to legal status for undocumented immigrants. But I squandered a lot of time arresting and deporting people, instead. I can see how that would be confusing to you. You probably thought that’s what I wanted you to do, as well. It’s not. It never has been.
Our relationship has gotten to be totally dysfunctional and it’s just not working for me anymore. It’s time for us to go our separate ways.
Based on your behavior these past few months, though, I really don’t expect you to take this news well. You had a chance to avoid all of this by vetoing SB 1070 when it came across your desk. You know in your heart that SB 1070 is way outside the bounds of our relationship. You simply cannot take something that belongs to me – immigration enforcement – and decide on your own that it belongs to you, too. I’ve been very nice up to now, I think – overly nice. I’m sorry that it’s come to this, but if you don’t find a way to reverse SB 1070, and quickly, I’ll have to see you in court.
You’re a special lady. I’m sure you will find some other way to pander to those needing pandering and get re-elected.
P.S. To help us make a clean break, I’m canceling 287(g) agreements in Arizona and letting you know that I’ve instructed ICE to not accept into custody anybody you arrest under SB 1070. I think it’s best this way. I still think highly of you, just not in that way.