Political Insider

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Does Joe Arpaio’s pardon undermine the case against immigration reform?

We’ll know better in the weeks and months ahead, but while the pardon issued to former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio by President Donald Trump on Friday may have pleased enthusiasts of aggressive immigration enforcement, the act may have also subverted one of their essential talking points.

The rule of law has been a foundational argument against any attempt at immigration reform that offers an eventual legal status or path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants here without authorization.

Here’s the Heritage Foundation criticism of the 2007 effort in Congress:

The most controversial component of the Senate's Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and immigration Reform Act of 2007 is Title VI, euphemistically entitled "Nonimmigrants in the United States Previously in Unlawful Status."

It would create a new "Z" visa exclusively for illegal aliens. This title would change the status of those who are here illegally to legal, essentially granting amnesty to those "previously in unlawful status."

The emphasis on legal constraint is contained in the insistence that the word “illegal” be applied to these residents, rather than “undocumented.”

Arpaio has flouted the legal orders of a federal judge for his targeting of Hispanics in Arizona, and for his treatment of those in his custody. He was recently convicted of contempt of court, and was about to be sentenced.

He has now been pardoned. As it turns out, neither the law nor the U.S. Constitution applies to this friend of the president.

Hours before Trump’s decision was announced, news outlets were reporting that the president was about to overturn DACA, the Obama-era program allowing “dream kids” who came to the U.S. illegally as children to remain here. From NBC News:

Administration officials said Friday that the Homeland Security secretary, Elaine Duke, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed the program with senior officials Thursday during a meeting at the White House. Sessions has been a consistent opponent of the program.

As many as 1 million immigrants could be affected.

Those involved in the announcement, should it come, are likely to invoke the rule of law. Yet this will sound rather hollow when it is applied to someone carried across the U.S.-Mexico border when she was 3 years old, but not to an adult American sheriff who knew what he was doing every step of the way.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.