Category Archives: Crime

Can Arizona’s Immigration Law Withstand Legal Challenges?

UPDATE: The American Civil Liberties Union, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Immigration Law Center are set to announce in Phoenix on Thursday plans to challenge the measure. U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder said this week that he was considering a possible legal challenge to the law. [More here]

Despite concerted efforts to thwart the passage of Arizona’s new immigration legislation, the bill was signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer on April 23rd. The bill now has the nation in an uproar – it has prompted nationwide protests, and sparked a renewed commitment to tackling national immigration policy in Congress.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has expressed her “deep concern” about the barrier the new law will create between law enforcement and crime victims. President Obama referred to the legislation as “misguided.” Even Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch adversary of moving on immigration reform, admitted today that he feels the Arizona law is unconstitutional.

In upcoming months, we can expect a litany of lawsuits challenging the legislation from a number of different fronts.  The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona is exploring legal action, and the Department of Justice is reviewing the law’s constitutionality. Most legal challenges are likely to focus on state pre-emption of federal law; this is how similar anti-immigrant laws were overturned in the past. Legal experts offer mixed opinions as to whether such an argument can effectively defeat the law. AP reports:

Kevin Johnson, dean of the law school at the University of California-Davis and an immigration law professor, said such a lawsuit would have a very good chance of success. He said the state law gets into legal trouble by giving local law enforcement officers the authority to enforce immigration laws.

However, Gerald Neuman, a Harvard Law School professor, said Arizona could make a compelling legal argument that it has overlapping authority to protect its residents.

Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who helped write the Arizona legislation, said he anticipated legal challenges and carefully drafted the language. He said the state law is only prohibiting conduct already illegal under federal law.

From a historical perspective, Thomas A. Saenz of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund points to a similar law enacted in California twenty years ago:

The federal court struck down Proposition 187 as an unconstitutional attempt to regulate immigration, which is a role that belongs exclusively to the federal government. [Arizona’s] SB 1070 is an even more direct attempt to establish the state’s own immigration law and enforcement scheme.

Yet it remains difficult to predict what would happen should a legal challenge reach the supreme court. New York Times columnist Linda Greenhouse points to an ominous hint from a 1982 case in which the Court overturned a Texas law prohibiting undocumented children in public school:

In 1982, hours after the court decided the Texas case, a young assistant to Attorney General William French Smith analyzed the decision and complained in a memo: “This is a case in which our supposed litigation program to encourage judicial restraint did not get off the ground, and should have.” That memo’s author was John G. Roberts Jr.

Another issue to consider is legal protection against racial profiling and discrimination, which many claim the new law promotes. According to Baylor Law Professor Laura A Hernandez, the new requirement to carry identification papers “will place an additional burden/requirement on citizenship for those of Hispanic descent which also appears to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.” The clause requires states to apply the law equally to all persons regardless of race, socio-economic status, or citizenship.

Posted by Mary Tharin



Filed under Crime, Human Rights

South Africa: World Cup Ready

This June, South Africa will host the world in the largest international games, the World Cup.  This is an event has been a point of pride for the country and the continent since it was chosen as the site of the World Cup in 2004.  It will be the first time an African nation will play host to these games.

But South Africa has had a problem with violence for the better part of its history and violent crime has risen dramatically in Johannesburg in recent years.  The country continues to rank second to Colombia in terms of murder rate.

Most troubling is the recent call by the South African white supremacist “Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging” movement called the recent killing of their leader a “declaration of war” by blacks against whites.  In their statements, the group is using the World Cup as leverage for its threats rather than what many would hope would be a time to call a truce.

The country has made multi-billion dollar investments in advanced technology to track and respond to crime.  There was talk several years ago of Rudy Giuliani’s group assisting the city with efforts, but according to a South African publication, the Daily Maverick, the fault of the failed partnership lies with the city’s mayor, Amos Masondo.  “In reality, no one from Masondo’s office bothered to return Giuliani’s phone calls.” But the politics and those making decisions have changed.

The US has seen its fair share of unexplained violent crime.  The recent mass shooting in Southeast Washington, DC or plans by the militia group in Clayton, Michigan are examples of our own problems, not to mention the countless crimes that go unreported in the national media. While there is no question the crime rate in South Africa country is much higher than the U.S. tourists should remember that crime can happen anywhere.

There is little evidence of positive movement for the country.  The cameras have improved response time dramatically, however it has not reduced the incidence of crime in the same dramatic fashion.  But what there is evidence of is a willingness and desire by the local officials to take the problem seriously and protect the expected inflow of tourists.  The country has prioritized this event even speeding in the judicial system.  The country aims to please tourists, in more ways than one.  The collective will may not stop all crime, but I am hopeful and confident it will alleviate a good deal of the fear.

Editor’s note:  For full disclosure, I wrote this post after the purchase of my tickets to the country, therefore my hope may be interpreted as slightly selfish.

Written by Emma Sandoe

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Filed under Crime, Foreign Policy

Gun Control- Obama’s “One Broken Promise”

In today’s Boston Globe, Northeastern professor James Alan Fox boldly claims President Obama has not yet followed through on the promise of gun control.  Specifically pointing to a provision on federal databases, known as the Tiahrt Amendment, Fox rightfully claims notes that the repeal of this restriction was part of the President’s campaign platform and has yet to be acted upon.

The Brady Campaign recently agreed with this sentiment and gave President Obama an “F” in every aspect of preventing gun violence.  In a rather scathing review of the last year, the organization says “his Administration’s extraordinary silence and passivity has allowed the gun lobby to move its agenda forward.”

In order to get the largest legislative accomplishment of this Congress passed, health care reform, the Administration surely did not want to burn any bridges with Conservative Democrats whose vote was crucial to the final passage.  An amendment ending a ban on mentally unstable Veterans purchasing firearms by Sen. Tom Coburn showed the likely vote breakdown in the Senate – 6 Democratic Senators joined Republicans in voting for the provision.

Now with the passage of health care reform behind the Administration, there is an opportunity to keep the promises of the campaign for strengthening gun laws and standing up to the powerful gun lobby.  However, enormous political capital has been spent for this year and a half long legislative hurdle and it is unclear how many promises have been made on this and many other progressive issues.

Democratic policy makers should be reminded of the research behind reducing gun violence.  Thankfully, Harvard comes to the rescue (yet again) with this Firearms Research Database.  Launched last week, this is a helpful tool to analyze academic research related to firearms and could easily eat up several hours of your life.  Be warned, academic paper nerds.


Filed under Crime

Immigration: Arizona Debates Anti-Immigrant Bill

Thousands marched on Washington this past weekend to demand that the administration turn its attention to immigration reform, in order to ensure that the basic human rights of immigrant workers and their families in the United States are upheld. But, meanwhile, legislation is quietly making its way through the Arizona State Legislature which would make the status of immigrants in the state far worse than under current law.

A proposal being debated in the Arizona House today (HB 2632) contains many of the same provisions that sparked widespread protests in 2008. Undocumented immigrants would be charged with trespassing, and law enforcement officials would be required to determine the immigration status of anyone they come in contact with during an investigation.

A number of pro-immigrant groups have launched opposition campaigns to HB 2632, among them the Tucson-based Border Action Network, which deemed the legislation “the most far-reaching anti-immigrant bill ever introduced in the Arizona Legislature.” The Bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference pointed out in a statement:

“We are concerned that the present language of these bills does not clearly state that undocumented persons who become victims of crime can come forward without fear of deportation. Anything that may deter crimes from being reported or prosecuted will only keep dangerous criminals on the streets, making our communities less safe.”

If signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer, “the bill also would make Arizona the only state to criminalize the presence of an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants through an expansion of its trespassing law.” An identical bill (SB 1070) has already passed through the Arizona Senate, and a House vote is expected this week.

This would undoubtedly act as a foil to any kind of sweeping immigration reform that the administration may attempt to address in the coming months. The nation must now turn its eyes to Arizona; the battle for a more just immigration policy will need to be fought on a more localized level before it can be tackled by the Obama administration.


Filed under Crime, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Politics

Graph of the Day: Congressional Employment

The Congressional Research Service recently released a report about the make up of the 111th Congress. Ezra Klein rightfully points out that Congress is made up of old white men– in a much greater proportion than the US statistical ratios for old white men.  Here is a little chart of the prior occupations of Members of Congress:

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) was a former astronaut, there is a former taxi driver and a former toll booth operator.


Filed under Crime

Graph of the Day: Seeking the Death Penalty Under Obama’s Term

NPR had some great reporting this week on the Justice Department approval rate for prosecutors to seek the death penalty under the Obama administration. In March, Attorney General Eric Holder said of the death penalty: “I think that’s the toughest decision that an attorney general has to make: When do you authorize the seeking of the death penalty?”

However, it appears that the answer to his own question is essentially at the same rate as under the Bush administration.  These numbers from the Federal Death Penalty Resource Center do not include recent cases and the Guantanamo cases, which could make them even higher.

Although support for the death penalty remains high, many hoped a progressive president would take a viewpoint similar to that of the Clinton administration. The Clinton administration left the decision up to state governments a majority of the time.  With large states such as California looking to put an end to a practice the European Union and a total of 95 countries have abolished, this policy could lower rates significantly.

Source: Federal Death Penalty Resource Center

Credit: Robert Benincasa and Nelson Hsu/NPR

By Emma Sandoe

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Government to Study Gun Control

In a very quiet development last month, the National Institute of Health (NIH) began studying gun violence after a 13 year ban on the topic.

In 1996 Congress stripped the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of its $2.6 million dollar annual funding for firearm injuries. The Bush administration continued this ban while in control of the agency.  At the time, Former Senate Majority leader Bob Dole and Former Senator Trent Lott argued gun related violence was not a public health concern and therefore not under the jurisdiction of the CDC.  Rather, they believed it was “driven by a social-policy agenda, [and] simply does not make sense.”

The public health community is in agreement that gun violence is a major concern to the health and safety of the public.  Injuries burden the health care delivery system and further crowd our nation’s emergency rooms.

Evidence has stacked up that lax gun control policies in this country have continued to contribute to horrific violence.  The recent killings at Fort Hood beg us to ask the question, how could such a mentally disturbed individual legally equip himself for these murders?  We should not forget that this isn’t the first time in recent history our country has been shocked by one man’s act of violence.  The Virginia Tech massacre showed how documented dangerous individuals could still purchase firearms.  Still this act of violence failed to renew the gun control debate. Additionally, the ease of buying and selling guns in America has dramatically increased violence in Mexico.

Thousands of innocent lives are taken by gun violence annually.  Completed suicides by firearms account for over half of all suicides in the U.S.  Why do individuals with the capacity to kill have ease purchasing weapons? If the answer is not control of guns but rather treatment of the mentally ill, shouldn’t we be able to ask the question?

In addition, a gun injury itself can force an individual to encounter all the problems in our health care delivery system that health care reform is trying to address: cost, quality and access. Hospital medical bills for doctor’s services and medical equipment show the need for improvements to control escalating cost in our health care system.  The high chance of hospital related infections in the wound indicate quality must be improved.  Finally, 1 out of every 6 Americans lack health insurance putting additional burdens on those seeking medical care after an injury.  The health care reform bills do not address gun violence, but improvements in these three areas could reduce the poor health outcomes associated with gun related violence.

The NIH is studying why gun violence occurs, not for political reasons, but in the interest of our health as a nation. Our country will become less violent and healthier if we are able to stop gun violence before abhorrent acts of violence take place.

By Emma Sandoe


Filed under Crime, Health Policy