On Illegal Immigration

Unless you have lived in Arizona a long time...

(This post is a response to Ken R. Goldstein's blog Random Thoughts, Notes, & Incidents post "What's So Wrong About Enforcing Citizenship Laws?")

On Arizona's "Immigration Bill" SB1070

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer appears ready to sign State Senator Russell Pearce's SB1070 immigration policy bill that sets ground rules for government intrusion and undermines the assumption of innocence in an unnecessary manner. Only one component of the bill makes real practical sense to me and that is allowing state and local law enforcement officers to enforce immigration law when a clear violation is present and in my mind they are obligated to act. I believe it should be limited to only act when it occurs in the course of duty and not as a specific pursuit, while investigating a crime or in the course of doing their job. If they come across a violation of immigration law, then it should be investigated. The argument these duties are strictly in the purview of the US Border Patrol does not hold water as a practical matter and Arizona has a strong tradition of maintaining States' Rights.
Benson "The Arizona Republic" 04/22/10
Arizona has had an illegal immigration population problem for at least the 40 years that I became old enough to be aware of it and it's certainly occurred longer than my memory. What we experience here ranges from driving a surface street and suddenly finding yourself being overtaken by a 100 mph chase to being a victim of all kinds of crime. It's not as uncommon as you might think. Our wages are among the lowest in the country and it's pretty well documented that it's due to the employment of illegal workers (for prevalence see "Pro's Ranch Markets fires 300 after workplace audit" from yesterday's azcentral.com) and this harms everyone. The toll of human smuggling, sex trade, drug mules, day worker traffic disruputions, illegal immigrant houses packed with people in unsanitary conditions and much more, makes for an unstable society. The most recent headline of the murder of border rancher Robert Krentz ratcheted up the debate but sadly similar acts have been going on for years.

The real issue here for me is resolution of the problem and it always seems to get reduced down to the gutter level of political proposals to solve the problem that are too extreme and the immediate snapback charge is "Racism!" The discussion then devolves nowhere from that point as each side backs into their corner.

A little Arizona history helps here I think. We are the 48th state and the last of the contiguous United States and will not even be 100 years old for another two years. Our state constitution was adopted in the early populist era of 1912 and our state government was designed to be very basic and give as much decision making to the voters as possible. That allows for ballot propositions, referendums, initiatives and recalls, which has not always served us well. We have only 15 counties and are dominated by two, Maricopa (Phoenix) and Pima (Tucson), each have opposing political cultures. Arizona was swept up in the term limit movement and in 1992 voters approved term limits, which had the effect in the 2008 election of sweeping every elected official out of the legislature and voting in an entirely new set of legislators. Members had to learn on the job very quickly and frankly many have not done well. In 1998 Arizona voters past the Clean Elections Voters Act which has been anything but clean and is being successfully challenged in court as unconstitutional. If all of that doesn't make your head spin, add that we do not have a Lt. Governor and the elected Secretary of State succeeds to the office. Since 1978 we have had four Secretary of States become Governor, including the current one, Jan Brewer. Practically we have not had a stable governor and government since Bruce Babbitt left office in 1987 and was succeeded by an elected certified flake by a fluke of a three-way race, Evan Mecham, who was impeached.

None of this is an excuse for the poor legislation that SB1070 is but an explanation that Arizona's Legislature and Executive Branch have been less than probably what we should expect from our leaders. The people of Arizona have no one but themselves to blame for this, since by design the state constitution is meant to give as much power to the voters as possible. Part of the problem is that we are a state flooded with revolving door newcomers passing through, a lot of whom don't seem interested in what's going on, except maybe to complain.

Back to the issue at hand...

We need immigration and border issues resolved. The concept of a state law that allows law enforcement officers to enforce immigration laws as they come across them makes sense. It also makes sense in order to eliminate local entities allowing "sanctuary rules" and toleration of soft immigration policies by local officials. The rule of law should apply across all jurisdictions on a matter as serious as this.

It is a terrible idea and probably unconstitutional to force immigrants (or anyone for that matter) to carry identification to prove their status. None of us should have to "show our papers" in this country. Arresting people who cannot prove their citizenship on the spot is also a very bad idea. Other components of the law have some merit but combined with the entire bill it makes for a very bad brew.

Therefore this bill only inflames the debate, although it will probably either be signed by Governor Brewer or allowed to go into effect without a veto. She is in a difficult political position but that is her problem. It also makes Arizona look kookie to the rest of the nation but like most Arizonans, I don't care about that. It is highly likely to face significant mounting legal challenges, wasting taxpayer money in the most insolvent state in the US.

What does matter is we have a long-standing difficult social, political, economic and legal issue in Arizona that remains unresolved for a variety of reasons, mainly due to bad or lack of appropriate government intervention and bad execution on all levels. A level-headed discussion can never get started because every time one does, inevitably when the discussion comes around to practical brass tacks of enforcing the law consistently, the immediate rebuttal is "RACISM!" That immediately stops all productive dialogue. Is that the best challenge that can be offered?

That is what happened with this bill, causing the other side to become more entrenched and having the political might, marshaled up forces to get it passed. This bill is problematic for a lot of reasons and it is highly likely that instances of discrimination will occur. The real problem with it is not racism actually...

It is too much government intrusion and treads on everyone's civil liberties, property rights, privacy, freedom of movement, travel and not just for "brown people." For all of us. We should all be afraid where the Statists of the current Federal Government will go next. Our former governor is now the Homeland Secretary and we know how much we can trust her (not at all). It's an indication of how nonsensical our country, not just Arizona, has become...a Mormon Republican State Senator getting a bill passed that should make any Social Democrat drool because it contains tools that can be turned on anyone.

If I were a betting man, I would bet that if the race card pullers would shut up, think logically and legally, pursue the argument that this harms all of us based on our liberties and unconstitutional, they might gain support from some valuable allies such as libertarians, true conservatives...the Cato Institute or hey maybe even the Goldwater Institute.

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