September 02, 2010

Presentation to focus on Arizona immigration law

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A closer look at Arizona’s new immigration law is part of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s observance of Constitution Day later this month.

Cindy G. Buys, associate professor and director of international law programs at the SIU School of Law, will present, “The Constitutionality of the Arizona Immigration Law,” at 7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 13, in the Student Center’s Ohio Room.

In addition to being part of Constitution Day activities, the lecture is also part of the upcoming Latino Heritage Month on campus, which runs Sept. 11 through Oct. 23.

Constitution Day is Friday, Sept. 17. The day marks the 223rd anniversary of delegates to the Philadelphia Convention completing and signing the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.

Along with Buys’ lecture, the political science department in the College of Liberal Arts will also show three DVDs on the Constitution. The DVDs, “The Constitution,” parts 1 and 2, and “Our Constitution: A Conversation,” will air from 1 to 4 p.m., Friday, Sept. 17, in Faner Hall, room 3075.

Both events are free and open to the public.

All educational institutions that receive federal funding must annually deliver programs on the U.S. Constitution in September.

Buys will be discussing how the Arizona law fits into a legal landscape where states in recent years have enacted literally hundreds of laws that affect immigrants in spite of the federal government’s comprehensive national program to regulate immigration.

Buys said the Arizona law, also known as Senate Bill 1070, authorizes state and local law enforcement officers to check a person’s immigration status under certain circumstances and make warrantless arrests when probable cause exists to believe the person is illegally present. The law also makes it a crime for an alien to fail to carry immigration papers, and adds state penalties for human smuggling, working without authorization, and transporting or harboring illegal immigrants, Buys said.

Buys said it is unclear the extent that states can regulate immigration at this point because of the numerous legal challenges currently working their way through the federal court system.

The U.S. Department of Justice in early July filed a lawsuit against Arizona over the state’s immigration law. Three weeks later, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton issued a preliminary injunction preventing several parts of Arizona’s new immigration law from going into effect.

Buys said she is generally in agreement with the district court’s initial ruling that there are “significant portions of the Arizona law that are unconstitutional because the are pre-empted by federal statute.”

One difficulty, for example, is expecting police officers not trained in immigration law to determine whether a person has permission to lawfully be in the country, she said. She also notes the variances in state immigration laws. Illinois, for example, tends to be more pro-immigrant while other states enact more restrictive legislation. The differences arise in several areas and include the ability to obtain a driver’s license, attend college, work, and find housing.

Buys is, however, sympathetic with Arizona’s plight, saying she believes the federal government “has failed us for the last 10 to 15 years.” Buys said the last major overhaul of the nation’s immigration law was in 1996, and focused more on behaviors that forced people to leave the United States.

“Our immigration system is not working very well and Congress has not stepped up to the plate and shown the political courage to enact immigration reform, so the states have become frustrated and they are trying to take things into their own hands to deal with the problems they are facing on the ground,” she said. “I’m very sympathetic to the states’ desire to do something in the face of congressional inaction. The real answer, in my opinion, is for Congress to act.”

Estimates place the number of illegal immigrants at between 11 million and 12 million people. But experts believe the number of persons who enter the country without permission is slowing due to this country’s current economic condition, prompting many to return home or not come, Buys said.

Buys said she hopes the presentation will provide greater understanding of the immigration situation the country faces, how the immigration system currently works, and will clear up misinformation. She will discuss the relationship between states and the federal government in respect to regulating immigration.

Buys teaches courses that include constitutional law, immigration law and international law. Since January 2005, Buys and law school students have participated in the Immigration Detention Project at the Tri-County Detention Center in Ullin. The project provides legal information to immigration detainees at the center, conducts intake interviews, and tries to match detainees up with pro bono attorneys if they need legal assistance.