Missing the Mark in Arizona

Arizona is in the midst of a huge controversy over its recent passage of legislation to try to control its problem with illegal immigrants and the deletorious effects they are having on the state and which they allege the federal government is unable or unwilling to do for them. The highlights of the new legislation seem to be the imposition on local police to detain suspected illegals and turn them over to federal authorities for deportation back to Mexico when appropriate. The controversy is over the conditions that will enable or force the police to initiate such action, which has created a maelstrom of criticism from outside the state and among some Arizona law officials who feel caught in the middle. Moreover, the Arizonans who support the legislation argue that much of the problem comes from the failure of the federal government to “secure” the border, which means something like sealing it.

The sentiment underlying the Arizona law is understandable if, as charged, it has resulted in an undue rise in crimes committed by illegals and an onerous pressure on social services to pay for their presence and demands. The exact extent of this part of the problem is contested and beyond my knowledge on which to comment. The identification of the source of the problem and the propriety of the solution, however, are not.

The illegal immigrant/border congtrolproblem in Arizona (as well as Texas, New Mexico and California) is really three different problems with different solutions, none of which are addressed by the Arizona law. First, it is an immigrant problem. Millions of Mexicans and other Central Americans have indeed migrated to the United States over the past decade, many of them illegally, and it is understandable to favor wanting that to stop. Part of the answer may be rounding up illegals and sending gthem back, hoping their example will deter others. Don’t count on it.

The solution to illegals entering the country is understanding and dealing with WHY they migrate here. Remember the Mexican-American border is the world’s only land border between a developed and a developing country, so that there will always be some economic lure for those in the poorer land. But that is not all of it. A good bit of the reason people migrate is out of desperation: many of the illegal immigrants are simply poor Mexican peasants who have been forced off their land and are simply seeking work to survive. At least part of the answer would seem to be to determine why they are so desperate, and the structure of NAFTA is certainly one of the villains, since it allows subsidies for American corn that can enter Mexico at lower prices than Mexican peasants can grow it. A lot of the migration problem, in fact, is attributable to policies that promote American agribusiness. Does the Arizona law address that?

The more egregious omission is that once the illegal immigrants reach the United States, their efforts are rewarded. There are jobs in the United States available to undocumented workers, who work for cash on a daily basis. It is against the law to hire such workers, but employers (including, I suspect, some of the most vocal backers of the Arizona law) willfully break those laws in the name of higher profits. When opponents of the illegals say the U.S. should enforce the laws we have on the books, those are the laws they should be talking about. Let’s start throwing  Arizona real estate developers or large growers who ignore these laws in the pokey and see what happens to illegal immigration. Does the Arizona law address this?

The second part of the problem is drugs. It is just my guess, but I suspect that most of the crime Arizonans attribute to illegal immigrants is actually committed by members of the drug cartels who neak across the border to do business. Why do they do so? Because our insatiable desire for illegal narcotics makes it  very profitable. Is rounding people up the answer to this, or is enforcement of the drug laws? Does the Arizona law address this?

Finally, there isthe question of terrorism. A legitimate national security basis for congtrolling the border is to keep terrorists out of the country. In fact, that is probably the most justifiable reason for a secure border. Is that addressed in the Arizona law?

The answer to all my admittedly rhetorical questions is, of course, “no!” I have no panacea for resolving the problem of illegal immigration into the United States, but rounding up illegal immigrants off the corner in Winslow, Arizona is treating the symptpm, not the cause. Come on Arizona, get serious about this problem!


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