Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Arizona's new Immigration Law - sticking your head in the sand is not good policy

As you might imagine, there is a lot of chatter in the blog-o-sphere about Arizona's new anti-immigration law. Given that it was passed by a Republican legislature and signed by a Republican governor, there are many of my liberal colleagues who dismiss it as so much a political stunt, and not the declared frustration of an overtaxed state. Those same colleagues would do well, me thinks, to rail equally against all the other federal mandates and laws that local jurisdictions end up taking on, since as we all know, the federal government is too busy spending your tax dollars on all sorts of other, useless things (like clean air, safe drinking water, and protection of endangered species: oh and fighting two overseas wars).

That said, there are three key points that I think we need to reinforce in the discussion. First, illegal immigrants in Arizona are overwhelmingly Hispanic, so when Arizona's new law says that you can't use race or ethnicity as the sole factor to establish "reasonable suspicion" that someone is here illegally, I have to ask what other basis will local cops use unless they always ask EVERY Latino they encounter for papers. We're already in a quasi-police state where our very phone conversations (and this blog and all your emails) can be read by the federal government without a warrant if the THINK you MIGHT be talking to a "terrorist."

Why does that matter? Well, to my second point, Arizonans have targeted a law at 29.4% of their population. Yes, you read that right - Arizona, a state that is 59.6% white has passed a law essentially requiring local police to stop and question nearly 1/3rd of their population in hopes of locating, detaining and ultimately deporting about 400,000 illegal immigrants a year. How this is not racially motivated is beyond me, especially when you consider that the Hispanic birth rate in Arizona is around 45% annually, and the non-Hispanic birthrate is 41%. That puts Arizona on the clear glide to being a white minority state sometime between 2015 and 2020 - i.e. within the next ten years.

Third, as Mike has pointed out over at Ames' place,

So then, again, why not put the pressure on employers? If they have immigrants working for them they should have papers. Period. Show up to a job site and make them produce. That will nab the majority of the illegals. I certainly don’t want them driving down the street and stoping Jose on his bike. That becomes harassment.

Unfortunately, this law does not address the economic issue. While this might well be the single most effective "reform" that could be made to deal with illegal immigration, Arizona has not added this power to its local police forces. No sir, employer raids are still the sole purview of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and ICE shows no signs of stepping them up any time soon. Thus, we're back to enforcement at the lowest level, leading to harassment of legitimate immigrants, increased distrust in law enforcement, and displacement of the problem back to Texas, New Mexico and California. None of this is a win for the people of Arizona (whose legitimate complaints about federal inaction will be drowned out by the laughter at this law); none of this is a win for immigration into the U.S. and none of this will stop those crossing vast deserts, at great peril to themselves, to enter a land whose most famous statue cries out:

"Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

The Washington Post's George Will - the supposed voice of reasoned Conservatives everywhere - has weighed in, and as always he tries so hard, and falls so flat:

Non-Hispanic Arizonans of all sorts live congenially with all sorts of persons of Hispanic descent. These include some whose ancestors got to Arizona before statehood -- some even before it was a territory. They were in America before most Americans' ancestors arrived. Arizonans should not be judged disdainfully and from a distance by people whose closest contacts with Hispanics are with fine men and women who trim their lawns and put plates in front of them at restaurants, not with illegal immigrants passing through their back yards at 3 a.m.

Where Will goes off the rails is assuming that the Hispanics he referrences here are two distinct groups - and that because Arizonans encounter them in one setting Arizonans get to treat them differently. Here in the DC area, there are scores of Hispanics, and they do indeed trim the lawns, serve the food, care for the children, build the houses, build the roads, go to church, buy stuff at Target, and drive a thriving segment of the local economy. If I had to guess, I'd guess some are illegal, but I have no way to tell, even if they are cutting through my yard at 3AM. Neither does Mr. Will, unless he assumes they all are. So too, the local cops in Arizona will have no other way to develop this elusive "reasonable suspician." And that is why liberals object to Arizona's Go It Alone Approach.

UPDATE 28 April 2010:

Unlike his Post colleague George Will, former Bush Administration speech writer and Jack Kemp Staffer Michael Gerson, writing in today's Washington Post, gets it, and makes Justin's point from the Comments below:

This law creates a suspect class, based in part on ethnicity, considered guilty until they prove themselves innocent. It makes it harder for illegal immigrants to live without scrutiny -- but it also makes it harder for some American citizens to live without suspicion and humiliation. Americans are not accustomed to the command "Your papers, please," however politely delivered. The distinctly American response to such a request would be "Go to hell," and then "See you in court."


Mike at The Big Stick said...

What if this were enacted in a state like California where illegals are not just brown but also black, yellow (I don't mean that in a racist way) and white? Would it be less objectionable? You seem to be basing your opposition on the fact that 99.999% of all illegals in Arizona are Hispanic, thus it's racism. But isn't that just a product of geography? Illegals of other races exist in other states. The problem is their status, not their race.

Philip H. said...

I think the debate would be different if this were enacted in California in that we would be talking about illegal immigrants of many races. But that's a red herring - this is an actual law in an actual state targetted at a definable racial group. That makes their race an equal component to the problem, the other two equal components being their staus and the federal government's failure to do its job.

Justin said...

"Here in the DC area, there are scores of Hispanics, and they do indeed trim the lawns, serve the food, care for the children, build the houses, build the roads, go to church, buy stuff at Target, and drive a thriving segment of the local economy."

I haven't been to DC in years, but I suspect there are scores of hispanics who also craft legislation, operate on hospital patients, provide accounting and consulting services, and teach at universities--many of them second- third- or fourth-generation who no one would ever think was latin.

When many left and right political commentators talk about "hispanics" they are thinking of a certain low-income segment of the population, which is certainly huge. But the economic impact and importance of the "hispanic" population, accurately defined, is much greater than dishwashing and lawn mowing. And that higher-value aspect is where some of the greatest economic harm might be seen from laws like this.

Philip H. said...

Justin, I agree totally, and thanks for calling me out for not making that point clearly. I think you and I presented two versions of the same issue - since you can't generally tell by looking at someone whether they are in the country illegally, you either have to question everyone, or no one. and in this case, everyone will equal all Hispanics who "look like" illegals - i.e. darker skinned Hispanics. I can't wait for the first lawyer to be pulled over in Phoenix and thusly accosted.

jg said...

Great topic. I'm in the information gathering stage, which is a euphenism.

This morning I heard reported that Pima county sheriff (Tuscon area) refuses to enforce the law; and yesterday, a politician from California (Bachus? sp?) is calling for a ban on Arizona.

I had wondered how strongly my state of California would oppose Arizona's law. Where I live, the me-party activists are prominent and my area always elects ulta-conservatives to state seats. Yet we have a high hispanic population, but I don't know the numbers.

I see among many hispanics who are naturalized or first generation, strong conservative leanings that they get most likely through their churches and social networks (specifically, one told me of Obama's plans to promote socialism and moral decay--straight from her preacher. She'd fit in at a tea party rally if views only are considered).

I know of numerous rural intersections where there are always clusters of hispanic men hoping for temporary work. I see few hispanics in professional positions; these are largely supplemented by immigrants from all over the world. At schools, where I do astronomy programs, populations range from 1/4 to mostly hispanic (I was even translated to spanish last year -- a miserable failure, but good learning experience).