As if the state of Arizona needs more controversy over its immigration issues.
An Arizona law enforcement officer who served as a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Public Safety was forced to resign on Monday after a federal investigation revealed she was an illegal immigrant.
The investigation was launched in August after Carmen Figueroa's brother, who serves in the Air Force, applied for a passport, triggering a red flag at the State Department.
Turns out Figueroa, a DPS employee for over a decade, had been told by her mother that she and her brother were born in the U.S., when in reality they had been born in Mexico.
That makes Figueroa ineligible to serve as a police officer, but it remains unclear if she knew the Social Security card and birth certificate she handed the DPS back in 2003 were forged. A department spokesperson says Figueroa rose through the ranks to become a criminal investigations detective, had an "exemplary record" and "was under the impression that she herself was an American citizen."
The department is now reviewing procedures to insure this doesn't happen again.
This person's resignation – and perhaps eventual deportation – is legal, but is it reasonable? In a world where the complexities of society will always yield examples that test the inflexibilities of written law, can exceptions be made? Can one be made in this case? In the latest debate over immigration reform, when the president talks about people who've been in this country for years who are deserving of citizenship status, does a person like this fit that definition?
What would you do if you suddenly learned that you weren't born here but were actually born in, say, Poland. Brought here as a toddler, you grew up here, inculcated socially and culturally by all things American. Then, somehow, overnight, you're no longer a legal American citizen. You're now faced with the possibility of being deported to a foreign country that is now – legally – your native country, but foreign to you in every way except birthright.
What does the state of Arizona gain or lose by kicking her off the force (the department says she'd have been fired if she hadn't resigned) and possibly deporting her? She isn't "mooching" off of anything, she appears to be a taxpaying, hardworking, non-mooching, upstanding civil servant. She didn't know she wasn't born in the United States – at least there's no evidence she knew – so she had no reason to hide anything.
There is almost no path to citizenship outside of the regular, long-form process. One exception: Congress can pass a private bill granting citizenship or at least permanent residency. It happens rarely, but it's not unheard of. Should that be done? Arizonans could petition their senators and congressional representatives for a private bill granting her legal status or citizenship. However, if the Republican members from Arizona grant that private bill, would it be spun as tacit support for "anchor babies/Dream Act" and would those lawmakers then feel the wrath of inflxible tea party conservatives?
What is the process by which the department can check the documents the officer presented to insure they aren't fake? We have here a person who cheated out of ignorance (and ignorance is no excuse of the law, right?), but if the document checking is so sloppy then anyone with actual bad intentions can easily slip in, what's the best way to insure that doesn't happen again? If the Social Security Administration didn't flag her Social Security number (which is the most common way to spot a problem), then there wasn't any reason to dig deeper.
Should we be prosecuting employers who hire illegals? Do we make exceptions if they did it unknowingly? What if they were just negligent in doing a background check? The State Department actually caught this. That means somehow there was a record somewhere. Was there some reason why the police agency in Arizona didn't find it?
E-Verify is supposed to identify these issues but this is one of the interesting wrinkles. Frustrated that the federal government won't enforce existing law, Arizona passed its own immigration law – the infamous SB 1070 – yet two-thirds of Arizona employers ignore their own state law mandating they verify an applicant's immigration status through E-Verify, and no business has lost its license for not following the law, according to the Arizona Republic. (Only two have faced sanctions.) Even their police agencies have been rogue, each developing different policies on how they intended to enforce the law.
So what do we do with this person? Should we make an exception to the rule, grant her citizenship or some kind of permanent residency and allow her to keep her job, which she clearly seems to have done well? Or are you OK with kicking her off the force and out of the country because she's in violation of the law?