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Arizona Immigration Law SB 1070: Only a Symptom of the Disease

by Somebody Else
May 23, 2010

As expected, Arizona's new immigration law, recently signed by Jan Brewer, the governor of that state, has become a source of great controversy.

At present, most arguments in favor of the bill state that it is necessary to protect the border of the nation from being overrun by illegal immigrants bent upon taking American jobs and making illicit use of the country's social services which are funded through the tax dollars of law-abiding citizens, and also emphasize that this new legislation is essential for protecting Arizona from the lawlessness and violence of organized crime and gangs originating in Mexico and involved in the trafficking of illegal drugs, kidnapping, and murder.

Conversely, most of those who presently denounce the bill, including President Barack Obama, see it as an invitation to racial profiling, through which innocent Americans of Hispanic background may find themselves continually harassed by law enforcement officials on the suspicion of being illegal aliens, and by means of which the powers of the state to monitor the activities of individuals and groups will have been given such broad and elastic scope that our cherished civil liberties, as enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, will have become seriously compromised as a consequence.

Those in favor of the bill point out that the federal government has failed to do its part to secure the southern border, which has forced Arizona to take upon itself the duty of doing what Washington itself ought to have properly handled in the first place.

In defense of the federal government's role up to the present time in policing the border, those opposed to the bill indicate the absurdity and the impracticality of completing a multi-billion-dollar and supposedly impenetrable physical barrier between Mexico and the United States, a border stretching slightly more than 1,200 miles, point out the impossibility of funding, hiring, and training enough border patrol agents to keep out all illegal aliens, and warn about the threat to cordial relations between the United States and Mexico that would result from deploying large numbers of American soldiers to monitor the border, soldiers that are already spread thin enough throughout the globe.

Quite naturally, the populist ire of those who support the bill is directed in large measure at illegal immigrants, an easy and for the most part politically defenseless target.

The usual argument goes like this. They are breaking the law by illegally entering the United States. This shows gross disrespect for those who do legally immigrate to the United States and go through the proper channels to become legal residents and citizens. As noted earlier, they take jobs that could go to legitimate residents and citizens and make use of social services funded through taxpayer dollars. Some of them commit crimes and thus degrade the communities in which they live. Many of them have children in the United States, thus further burdening our taxpayer-funded social services, such as our school systems. Also, if certain proposed immigration reforms are enacted, parents of these children would be able to apply for residency in the United States since their American-born children are, by legal definition, citizens of the United States. They often make up relatively isolated communities, which can amount to enclaves where Spanish language and culture predominate and where the English language and American culture are ignored and dishonored.

But perhaps worst of all, so the argument goes, these illegal immigrants give an unfair competitive advantage to the businesses that hire them. Such businesses can pay their illegal immigrant workers considerably less, deny them all job benefits such as health insurance, pay them in cash and thus avoid paying any taxes on their wages, and in this way greatly reduce their operating expenses, and offer their services or goods at prices considerably lower than the prices offered by businesses that do not hire illegal immigrants. Therefore, those entrepreneurs that manage to employ large numbers of illegal immigrants can force out of business many or even all of their law-abiding competitors.

It is argued that the way to end such practices is to crack down on illegal border crossings, in other words, to effectively put an end to such unfair business advantages by depriving such opportunistic entrepreneurs of an illegal and competitively cheap labor force. Such are some of the key arguments of many of those who support the Arizona bill.

However, the problem with this kind of reasoning is that it implicitly puts the burden of the blame upon the illegal immigrant. From a superficial standpoint, this might seem logical enough. After all, if you are not a citizen of the United States, and you decide to illegally cross the border into this country, you are breaking international law as well as the laws of the United States.

Let us imagine that a citizen of the United States might choose to illegally cross the border into another country, let us say, Switzerland, for the purpose of obtaining employment there. Let us say that the Swiss authorities apprehend this American and have him deported out of Switzerland. We could scarcely imagine the slightest degree of sympathy for the plight of that American in any corner of the world. Why? Well, because we would argue that the American should have looked for and found work in his own country. After all, America is a prosperous land, filled with freedom and opportunity, so why should that American violate the Swiss border in his search for gainful employment?

Alas, as we should all well know, but so many of us either do not know or simply refuse to acknowledge the hard truth owing to a profound lack of compassion and sympathy, the opportunities for gainful employment in Mexico and in most of Latin America are much scarcer indeed than those available in the United States.

The more compassionate among us cry out: "We cannot blame Latin Americans for illegally coming to the United States, since they face desperate economic circumstances in their own countries, and are only doing their best to provide for themselves and for their families."

However, the more hard-nosed among us retort: "Let each nation look out for its own interests. It is enough for the United States to busy itself with its own economic concerns. If America is stronger economically than its neighbors to the south, that is something for us to be proud of, because we believe in a free world that supports unrestricted and competitive trading practices. If the Latin American nations are economically weaker than the United States, it is because of certain shortcomings in their governments and societies, perhaps their lack of dedication to the core principles that have made America a great nation. The lack of economic opportunity in Latin America is not our problem. We have laws regarding our borders that must be respected and enforced. Therefore, we must redouble our efforts to keep out illegal immigrants, and the new Arizona law is a step in the right direction."

With regard to the ongoing drug wars being carried out on the border of the United States and Mexico, the overwhelming consensus on both sides of the argument is that the gun-wielding, hyper-violent dealers and distributors must be stopped. But of course, this is self-evident and axiomatic.

What is not being addressed in this regard, at least not in the predominating public debate, is the matter of the insatiable and unrelenting demand for illegal drugs in the United States. For, let us not forget, were millions upon millions of American citizens not hopelessly addicted to the illegal drugs smuggled by the ruthless and bloody Mexican cartels across our border, there would be no such cartels at our borders in the first place.

And as long as we are considering that last point, let us also keep in mind that if all American businesspersons, at the present time determined to beat out the competition by hiring illegal immigrants and thus lowering their bottom line, suddenly did a strict review of all their employees' supposedly legal documentation to determine its legitimacy, and then summarily dismissed all employees that had submitted false documentation or were unable to submit any documentation at all, within a matter of a few months all illegal immigration would cease. There would be considerably less need to patrol our border with Mexico, because there would no longer be any reasonable expectation of employment for those who might illegally enter the country.

So, let us look beyond the stagnant public debate, which solves nothing, can produce no lasting solution, and is simply a means for cynically gathering votes and furthering political power for its own sake, whether liberal or conservative, whether Democrat or Republican.

The most expensive and draconian measures taken to secure our borders will fail if they only target the human beings who try to illegally cross over, since such measure only address the symptom of the problem and not its root. As long as there are employers willing to hire illegal aliens in order to gain a competitive edge, there will be illegal border crossings. As long as there are Americans hopelessly addicted to illegal drugs, there will be violent drug cartels at our border ready to smuggle across it their toxic goods.

Likewise, the problem cannot be solved by the most liberal applications of reform and amnesty alone, since such approaches do not directly address the economic disparities between the United States and its neighbors to the south, and also since such disparities are the primary motive force for illegal immigration in the first place. As long as these disparities exist, and as long as American employers can gain a decisive competitive edge by hiring illegal immigrants, the problem will persist.

The crisis of illegal immigration and drug cartel violence at our borders requires a comprehensive strategy that addresses these problems at their source, and the effective implementation of such a strategy will require unique and groundbreaking international diplomatic efforts that must necessarily compel us to forsake some of our most fundamental and cherished notions about the supposedly proper separation of our domestic affairs from our international affairs, a separation that must prove, upon closer and more honest inspection, to be a wholly false and illusory dichotomy.

For, if we are able to cut through the misleading and mind-numbing political rhetoric on both sides of the issue, we see that we do not exist independently of Latin America, and it does not exist independently of us.

We might wish to dismiss the billions upon billions of dollars generated by employing illegal immigrants and resulting from purchasing illegal drugs smuggled across our borders, but these activities have a decisive economic impact both in the United States and in Latin America, whether from the countless illegal immigrants who wire money to families in their home countries, or from those illegal immigrants' employers who individually play such a large role in their local economies and politics and collectively play an even larger role in their state's economy and politics and in the national economy and politics, or from the billions upon billions of dollars flowing into the drug cartels at our border and flowing from them into the deepest reaches of Latin America where the drugs are grown, harvested, and processed for distribution, or from the undeniable economic, social, cultural, and criminal impact resulting from millions upon millions of American citizens compulsively and obsessively snorting, injecting, smoking, and ingesting billions upon billions of dollars of illegal drugs brought into this country.

The idea that the United States is just trying to innocently mind its own business, but is being overrun by illegal immigrants and drug cartels at its borders, as if the United States were just some kind of hapless tourist walking through the jungle and getting attacked by a swarm of blood-sucking mosquitoes, is utterly preposterous, to say the least. No, the United States is rather more like a drunk cursing his whiskey bottle for all the troubles it has brought him.

A lasting solution to these problems can only be found through the following steps:

  1. Drug addiction in the United States must be addressed through publicly-funded programs aimed at reforming the user instead of simply throwing him or her in jail.

  2. Addicted drug users must be helped to choose more productive alternatives in life, and should be given reasonable opportunities to earn a living wage. Government and society must address the root causes of drug addiction, which are the widespread disintegration of the family unit, the depersonalization and alienation experienced in our modern world, endemic racism, economically depressed communities which give rise to a violent, drug-dealing environment owing to the lack of other viable sources of income, an overly materialistic and ruthlessly competitive culture that creates a feeling of hopelessness and despair among those who fail to excel, and the loss of meaningful and gainful employment as a consequence of a pitiless society that puts profits over people and individual gain over collective development. Over time, a significant reduction in the demand for illegal drugs in the United States will also result in a significant reduction in the smuggling of illegal drugs into this country, which must logically lead to a significant reduction in violent drug cartel activity at our southern border. The so-called "war on drugs" has been a stunning failure, because it has fruitlessly sought to destroy the distribution network that supplies the demand, rather than address the problem of the demand itself. As long as the demand exists, there will be a distribution network to supply it, regardless of the government's most concerted efforts to annihilate that network.

  3. The United States must take a much more active role in assisting with the economic development of Latin America.

  4. We must fully acknowledge that, in the long term, the economic progress of Latin America is in our own best economic interest. At present, Latin America as a whole is one of our most important trading partners, so it stands to reason that an increase in economic development there would result in increased trade with the United States. Most importantly, we must in large part address the problem with illegal immigration originating in Latin America by providing binding incentives for facilitating the widespread creation of gainful employment within that region. Latin Americans must show measurable progress in the development of their national infrastructure with regard to schools and universities, public services, health care, job training, and job creation in order to receive preferential trade status with the United States, and in order to receive monetary loans from the United States that might be used in part to fund the development of such national infrastructure and job creation. Of course, the possibilities for corruption and embezzlement would be great under such circumstances, and would make indispensible the development and effective implementation of international oversight mechanisms designed to vigilantly guard against such potential abuses. It would not be an immediate silver bullet solution, but over time the creation of Latin American jobs and the growth of Latin American economies would greatly reduce the lure of illegal employment in the United States.

  5. The federal government of the United States must lead efforts, and also provide effective incentives to the individual states, for the purpose of preventing the hiring of illegal immigrants.

  6. These efforts must be directed primarily at employers rather than at illegal immigrant employees. A new executive department, directly answerable to the President of the United States, should be created for the express purpose of enforcing fair hiring practices among employers, and of compelling the rigorous and thorough verification and authorization of documentation provided by workers, so that illegal immigrants do not receive employment in the United States. All employers must be compelled to verify and authorize, through a newly created government agency formed expressly for this purpose, documentation given to them by their workers, and stiff consequences must be suffered by employers who do not comply. The new government initiative should lead to the periodic and strict in-person monitoring and inspection of all employers, so that nobody can simply pay cash to illegal immigrants without requesting any documentation. In many cases, undercover field agents, who must be native speakers of Spanish, and who pose as illegal immigrants, should be employed to run extensive sting operations. If this is done properly, businesses that do not hire illegal immigrants will no longer have to compete against businesses that do hire them, and most importantly, the lure of illegally crossing our southern border will be greatly diminished.

  7. Not all illegal immigrants currently in the United States should be granted amnesty, and not all illegal immigrants currently in the United States should be deported.

  8. Every such situation should be considered with a reasonable amount of both compassion and justice. For example, children born in the United States, who by law are citizens of the United States, should of course not be forcibly separated from a parent or parents that have illegally immigrated to the United States, but neither should such children be automatically required to leave the United States with their parent or parents, as current immigration law stipulates. The illegal immigrant parents of such American-born children might only be granted provisional residency status, according to which they would be limited to employment only in certain low-paying sectors of the economy as specified by the government. Also, in order to retain their provisional residency status, such parents might be required to attend and pass government-certified English classes, to be taught with an emphasis on American history, culture, and law. Those parents might have to wait until their child reaches adult age, at which time they might apply for full permanent residency status, which might effectively remove their employment restrictions. Conversely, illegal immigrants without American-born children should be promptly deported, but the country of origin itself should assist in preventing such illegal immigrants from attempting an illegal crossing again. For example, the United States government might provide incentives to Mexico so that the latter might create and implement a jobs training program to which all illegal immigrants deported back to Mexico would be assigned. All graduates of this jobs training program would be given jobs by the Mexican government in public works projects such as road building, dam building, park creation, etc. Funding for this job training program and these public work projects could in part be funded by the United States.

  9. The matter of children being born to illegal immigrants in the United States is complex and delicate.

  10. As determined by longstanding legal precedent in this country, if you are born here, you are a citizen of this country, notwithstanding the citizenship of your parents. If immigration law is changed to provide legal alternatives to deportation for such parents, other illegal immigrants may feel a greater incentive to illegally cross the border and give birth to children in the United States. This incentive might be mitigated somewhat by the firm requirements and restrictions which might be associated with provisional residency status granted to the illegal immigrant parents of children born in the United States, but in any case, such an option would of course for some time seem more attractive than the poverty and hopelessness that such parents may currently have to face in their countries of origin. Similarly, efforts to thwart the employment of illegal immigrants, and to combat addiction to illegal drugs in the United States, will necessarily take time to bear fruit. In the meantime, the border with Mexico must continue to be monitored and patrolled. The United States military should not be deployed at the Mexican border, since doing so would strain diplomatic relations with that country. A huge, expensive wall should not be erected along the entire length of the border, since in and of itself it could not be entirely effective in preventing illegal border crossings, and in any case the funds needed for such a wall might best be invested in some of the other initiatives mentioned in this article.

  11. Laws like the recently passed Arizona Immigration Law SB 1070, which only treat the symptoms of the disease rather than its causes, should be struck down.

  12. As stated earlier, the government should focus more of its efforts upon monitoring those who employ illegal immigrants than upon identifying illegal immigrants in contexts outside of the workplace. As for dealing with the immediate effects of the plague of violent drug cartels at our border, in my view this is a matter best left up to the United States Customs and Border Protection (CPB) rather than to the United States military. If the CPB is underfunded and understaffed, it should be provided with the material means and personnel that it needs to fulfill its objectives. Also, the Mexican government should also be given more compelling incentives by the United States, which might include financial and tactical support, to combat the operation of drug cartels at our common border.

"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...