*The bill recently signed into law by Arizona governor Jan Brewer, highlights the necessity, selectiveness, racism, and hypocrisy of the country’s immigration policy.
In an effort to protect its borders and the border of the United States the state of Arizona has passed a law that allows law enforcement officers to demand identification of any immigrant. Arizona is dabbling in international policy making and in the process potentially sparking a constitutional crisis.
Immigration reform is just as necessary as a reform in social welfare was necessary in the 1990s and health insurance reform was necessary more recently. The social and economic mobility that is possible in this country makes it a destination of people all over the world.
The problem is that though there is the opportunity to move ahead, not every immigrant that arrives in this country will indeed progress to the upper levels of any industry. Simple statistics and probability dictate that in fact most will fail. Unfortunately this fact does not stem the tide of immigration.
And even more unfortunately is that the facts of statistics and probability do not stem the tide of illegal immigration which most severely affects the economic opportunity of Americans and immigrants. Immigration policy is necessary to prevent the American labor market from being flooded by unskilled laborers, who are most likely to immigrant illegally, which would drive down the wage rate. During an economic downturn, when people are more desperate for wages and willing to take less money to do more, immigration policy is all the more crucial to combat illegal immigration.
Still the selectiveness of the Arizona state law is problematic. Arizona is on the Southern edge of the United States bordering Mexico. Naturally then Arizonans must deal with immigration, legal and illegal, from Mexicans. In enforcing the new law though, Arizona targets Mexican immigrants to the detriment of attempting to stop immigration of other groups. Homeland Security intelligence concludes that individuals from the Middle East frequently attempt to enter the United States illegally by traveling to Mexico and then continuing north to this country. In focusing on Mexican day laborers, this statute attacks but one part of the problem. This half solution emphasizes the need of the federal government to dictate policy where immigrants are concerned. While Mexican immigration into Arizona may be dealt with, illegal Mexican immigration into California and Texas goes undisputed, illegal immigration across the Canadian border is not addressed, and immigration from Cuba can still approved under the guise of politics.
The racism of this effort on the part of the Arizona state legislature is not far from the surface. The law “requires police to question people if there is reason to suspect that they’re in the United States illegally. It also targets those who hire illegal immigrant day laborers or knowingly transport them” and mandates “additional training for local officers on how to implement the law without engaging in racial profiling or discrimination.” But the additional training is a smokescreen. It is virtually impossible to enforce this law without racial profiling and discrimination.
Officers who are looking for illegal immigrant day laborers are necessarily looking for people who live in Mexico. Officers looking for those who hire illegal immigrants for day labor or who transport said laborers are necessarily operating in Mexican social circles. So to be successful in ridding Arizona of illegal Mexican immigrants, law enforcement agents must exert undue pressure on legal Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans. Most disturbingly, this law opens the door to racist practices from police officers in the northern part of Arizona where there is no chance that illegal Mexican immigrants are operating as day laborers but where the officers’ actions will be protected by law.
While immigration reform is necessary, to overly regulate Mexican immigration is hypocritical from a historical perspective. After years of largely unregulated immigration helped to populate the American southwest in the middle to late 19th Century, and after immigrants labored to develop the American southwest, it is somewhat disingenuous to call for a halt to the influx of Mexicans. The United States has profited from Mexican labor over time and American companies that outsource their factories to Mexico continue to reap the benefit of Mexican labor, so while immigration must be reformed it should not be ceased.
The United States Constitution authorizes the national Congress “To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.”, While Arizona has certainly usurped some of the responsibility of Congress, the problem really lies with the national government. Congress needs to act to reform immigration policy on a national scale and address all borders and contingencies. Otherwise we may only need to wait for California, New Mexico and Texas to act to have four different policies toward illegal immigration via our southern border. The problem was important enough for the people of Arizona to establish a racist and incomplete law. So the problem is important enough to deserve the attention of the entire citizenry and our national policy makers.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War and he maintains a blog called This Seems Familiar. You can reach him at [email protected]