Feds take lead against immigration foes in race for justice

OPINION - By establishing its ultimate authority to regulate immigration policy, the federal government has snatched the baton from its wayward teammates...

Yesterday, the federal government took an important step toward eliminating the state-based, shortsighted legislative responses to immigration that have threatened to sweep across the nation. By filing its complaint against the state of Arizona, the U.S. Department of Justice officially challenged Arizona law SB 1070, which requires state and local police to stop and question individuals who present “reasonable suspicion” of being an undocumented immigrant.

The complaint argues that, in addition to being in violation of the federal government’s preeminent authority to regulate immigration matters, “SB 1070 pursues only one goal—’attrition’—and ignores the many other objectives that Congress has established for the federal immigration system.” Though the state law is supposed to go into effect on July 29th, this latest challenge may keep it from ever taking effect.

In addition to condoning—even if implicitly—racial profiling, the Arizona law does not address comprehensive immigration reform, which is critical to addressing not only the labor and workforce challenges plaguing environments with large numbers of undocumented immigrants, but also its associated quality of life, equal opportunity, and human rights issues. Immigration—like affirmative action—is an issue that strikes at America’s core value of fairness; and as with affirmative action, we cannot analyze or regulate this issue through a lens of fear. It is costly, ineffective, and as we learned with affirmative action, reactionary “fixes” at the state level only serve to reinforce structural biases that prevent the inclusion of historically marginalized populations.

For example, if there was any lesson learned from California’s Proposition 209, which eliminated affirmative action in state public employment, contracting, and education, it is that when states develop their own reactionary responses to hot-button social dilemmas, the outcomes worsen for communities of color.

[MSNBCMSN video=”http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32545640″ w=”592″ h=”346″ launch_id=”38106778^10^132630″ id=”msnbcef518″]

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Equally important to how we resolve the issue of immigration is the fact that we’re having this debate in the first place. The struggle for inclusion and diversity is at the core of any true Democracy, therefore engaging in a vigorous exercise to inform federal policymakers about what should comprise the continuum of reforms is another critical next step. Though a number of lawmakers have expressed their disagreement with the federal lawsuit, Rep Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and 19 other Republicans in the house claim that the suit “reflects the height of irresponsibility and arrogance,” the response by the Obama administration was clearly necessary.

Ultimately, this preemptive move by the federal government was important to thwart the copycat efforts in the other states that are contemplating their own versions of the Arizona law. By establishing its ultimate authority to regulate immigration policy, the federal government has snatched the baton from its wayward teammates and put itself in the position where it must now perform with the quality of any competitive anchor.

As Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement, “We are actively working with members of Congress from both parties to comprehensively reform our immigration system at the federal level because this challenge cannot be solved by a patchwork of inconsistent state laws.”

Word to the wise: move swiftly, the race is on.