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ICE Program Under Fire | The Nation

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ICE Program Under Fire

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Since 287(g) has gone into effect, immigrants have been leaving Arizona in hordes. Businesses and revenues have gone with them. The state is billions of dollars in debt, and its housing and labor market are among the weakest in the country. "People are leaving, and those who are here are being driven underground and are not reporting their income," said Gordon. According to the Arizona Republic, many undocumented immigrants have turned to arbitrage as their main source of income--buying and reselling items in garage sales or other informal venues. "I am concerned about how Arizona's attitude toward immigrant labor will serve as a head wind against future growth," said Dennis Hoffman, an economist at Arizona State University and a long-term financial forecaster for the governor's office.

About the Author

Jessica Weisberg
Jessica Weisberg
Jessica Weisberg has written for The New York Times, the Guardian, The New Yorker, The American Prospect and many...

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Twenty or so day laborers stood outside a Home Depot in Phoenix on a recent morning, crowding into the scant patches of shade. Only a few had found work in the past few weeks, and those who did found only scraps of it. "Five years ago, there was a potential for work," one man told me. "But they've closed many stores." I asked him to name a few examples. He gestured across the street at a boarded-up building in a strip mall. It was once a Mexican restaurant. The rest of the men started chiming in, naming shuttered businesses; one man just started listing street names.

An employer sanctions law--passed by Governor Napolitano in 2007 and regarded as the strictest of its kind--has created an environment inhospitable for businesses. "This economy started to tank after the employer sanctions bill went into effect," said Hoffman. The law requires employers to verify the legal status of their employees. If they fail to do so once, they face a suspension of their business license; twice, and they risk being shut down entirely, facing what's been called the business death penalty. Napolitano first balked at the bill--she vetoed a version of it in 2006. Yet, as homeland security secretary she has professed her commitment to expanding the program. "I signed the nation's strongest employer sanctions bill when I was governor," Napolitano said during her nomination hearing. "One of the first things I will do should I be confirmed as secretary is begin a collaboration with the Department of Justice, and hopefully with the US Attorneys' offices throughout the country, so that we can start moving actual prosecuted cases through the system."

There's something immediately likable about Napolitano. She has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and survived breast cancer. She laughs frequently and speaks with the amiable gruffness of a bartender. "She's a thoughtful, bright person. I have a lot of good things say about her. But put her next to a badge and gun, and she's going to use it," said Alfredo Gutierrez, a former Arizona state senator. Gutierrez ran against Napolitano for the Democratic ticket for governor; after he lost, he dutifully campaigned for her in the general election. However, the two have always differed on the topic of illegal immigration. "She has primarily a police mentality, as opposed to a civil or legal rights mentality. She sees the undocumented as law violators and disposable people," Gutierrez told me. (A spokesperson for Department of Homeland Security said, "Secretary Napolitano believes you can effectively enforce immigration laws and safeguard individual rights.") On August 20 Obama held a private chat at the White House about immigration policy. According to a person who attended the meeting, when the president mentioned that his administration would expand the 287(g) program, Napolitano "started smiling as if she had won something."

Napolitano seems to be increasingly alone in her enthusiasm. Three enforcement agencies--two in Massachusetts and one in New Jersey--announced in early October that they had canceled their contract with ICE. All summer, protesters seemed to shadow Napolitano: they stood in the streets of Manhattan when she spoke at the Council of Foreign Relations; they gathered outside CBS studios in Los Angeles during her interview with Bill Maher. On October 7, immigration activists held a demonstration outside Arpaio's office in Phoenix, urging federal authorities to reconsider the entire 287(g) program before any new agreements are finalized.

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