Looking at Immigration Objectively
The signing by Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona’s new immigration law is one group of lawmakers’ action to confront a festering issue in the state. As could be predicted, a different set of lawmakers and activists is criticizing it, shouting racism, condemning law enforcement and urging a boycott of Arizona business and tourism.
What’s going on?
According to polling, about 70 percent of Arizonans support the law and its intent. These individuals have seen what’s been occurring in the state: people-smuggling and drug-smuggling; violence in neighborhoods and on interstate highways; gang crimes; and the recent killing of a southern Arizona rancher. They also hear of illegal immigrants “mooching” off the social safety net, crowding emergency rooms and filling classrooms in public schools because no one except the INS is allowed to enforce immigration laws.
Most Arizonans “came from someplace else.” Many are naturalized immigrants – from Mexico, India, China, Canada, the Middle East and eastern Europe. They came for work, opportunity and the climate.
Many of these people are a part of the 70 percent. Their reasoning? These are the rules; immigrants know them. The process is in place not to deny immigration but to control it. The process takes years – extending individual rights to immigrants and encouraging them to participate in the country’s unique system of self-government.
Those immigrants who show contempt for these rules – who don’t want to nor ever intend to follow them, who want to “game” the system, or who don’t want to follow any rules at all – are who this law is addressing.
Is this racist? To the 70 percent, the injection of race is a red herring designing to inflame the Hispanic community and divide the state. It’s not unlike the Islamic fundamentalists who intimidate moderate Muslims to not oppose their jihad.
Are there Hispanic Americans who support this new law? Undoubtedly. Will you see them confronting Hispanic leaders who call the law racist? No way.
The new law brings back bad memories from the summer of 1997 in Chandler, AZ. Over three days the local police department conducted “sweeps” of the downtown area, stopping individuals who looked Hispanic and asking for identification. While they apprehended some illegal immigrants, they also (egregiously) violated the civil rights of hundreds of Chandler citizens. The city paid for it in settled lawsuits, a community black eye, and friction among the races.
What is often forgotten, however, is that the sweeps were motivated by complaints by Hispanic Americans in Chandler that illegal immigrants from Mexico were terrorizing the area. In addition to committing crimes, Mexican men were harassing teenage girls on the street, assaulting them, and threatening to kidnap them and take them to Mexico. To residents, the threats were very real – and an unwelcome extension of Mexican culture into their city. (There remains a sliver of nationalist Mexicans in Arizona who refuses to acknowledge the U.S. government, citing its “takeover” of the territory in the Mexican-American War of 1846.)
Of course, the biggest fear with the new law is that police officers will run amok, stopping and challenging the citizenship of everyone. This conveys to them too much power, too much authority. Good officers will act responsibly; bad ones could hurt a lot of people and undercut the U.S. Constitution. That cannot be underplayed.
It is also the reason some police chiefs oppose the law, because of the position in which it puts local police officers. They believe immigration enforcement is best left to the federal government.
Supporters of the law would argue that the federal government is not doing its job on immigration. Enforcing the border is not a priority. Cynics believe a Democratic administration opposes such enforcement, because it would limit potential supporters.
The irony is that the nation has grown and thrived because of immigration. Arizona has benefited from immigration and the seasonal flow of migrant workers.
What has changed has been the introduction of the organized criminal element.
The state’s message to its brethren in Mexico is that Arizona is not racist; its residents simply want immigrants to follow the rules for a civil society.