Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reflections on the Arizona Immigration Law

*(Note: My views on immigration have evolved substantially in the seven years since this was written.  I now support open borders, and consequently disagree with important elements of the stance outlined here.  I'm leaving up this old post just to preserve a record of my old opinions, since chasing down everything I've written on the internet that I no longer agree with would be futile anyway!)

The media has created such a hubbub over this bill that nearly everyone I’ve spoken to seems universally opposed to it. Yet so few people actually understand what the Arizona Immigration Bill says. The same people who complained when Republicans portrayed Obamacare in a negative light have totally lied about what the bill actually contains. I've met 3 people this week who thought the bill said "all Mexicans may be checked at any time and forced to prove they're a citizen or they're deported" which is totally not true.

The bill does one thing: it makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally. That's all. It transfers federal laws making it illegal to be in the country illegally (duh) and makes them also enforceable at the state level by state policemen, instead of only federal border police. That is honestly all the bill says: it is illegal to be an illegal alien. Doesn’t that sound repetitive to you? It seems to me like common sense.

The controversy arises from the "reasonable suspicion" clause that applies to any state law, claiming that if the police have "reasonable suspicion" that someone has committed a state crime they may arrest or interrogate them. In this case, if the police have a reasonable suspicion that somebody is an illegal immigrant, they may ask them to prove their citizenship. What liberals will tell you is that race is the only factor that could possibly determine a “reasonable suspicion” of illegal alien status, meaning that racial profiling could be used by this bill. I understand these accusations and share that fear. However, the same risk exists for any law! Accusations of police discrimination based on race are nothing new. In every other element of the legal system, we train our policemen not to do that, and trust they will follow that training. Why is this different?Arizona governor Jan Brewer passed a clarifying addition to this bill last week that made it explicitly illegal for race to be used to justify any indicator of such suspicion: other variables, such as residence, under-the-table employment, or association with other convicted aliens can be used to determine if someone’s citizenship should be checked. And it’s not like they can arrest people because of such suspicion; policemen can merely ask them to prove their citizenship, in much the same way you would be asked to provide proof of insurance when you get pulled over. And even if some cops do break the law and check people exclusively on the basis that they look Latino (which I would be utterly opposed to), any legal citizen would have nothing to hide and nothing to worry about: a 2 minute inconvenience from their day would be the only penalty any legal citizen would pay to help solve this massive problem. But again, I cannot reiterate enough that this bill does nothing of the sort: the reasonable suspicion clause is not unique to this bill, it applies universally to all state laws, including murder and rape and robbery and any other crime. Racial profiling is specifically illegal in the prosecution of any of them.

I totally understand where the left is coming from with the racial profiling thing. Even though illegal immigration is a pressing matter of national security, a Libertarian like myself knows that you can NEVER trade freedom for security: the potential interference with privacy rights disturbs me as it does you. This is not a perfect fix, and has some downsides. I realize that perhaps there are better ways out there to oust illegal immigrants. I hope there are! But I do think it's an improvement on the way things are now. I’m not sure about just what is the perfect approach to get tough on this problem. The only thing I am sure about is, however we do it, we must get tough on this problem! Us northeasterners have a hard time appreciating just how bad it is, but let me read you some stats and see if you’re not shocked: 29% of Federal Prison Inmates are illegal aliens. According to the Los Angeles Times, 40% of all workers in Los Angeles County are working for cash but not filing tax returns. I wonder why that might be? 95% of all LA County’s murder warrants are to Latinos not registered as citizens, AKA illegals. Similarly suspected illegals make up 50% of suspected gang members, 75% of the most wanted list, and 35% of all California inmates. There are 300 million citizens of the United States, and an estimated 35 million illegal aliens: this means that one-eleventh of all people living in the US is an illegal alien (and obviously far worse in the Southwestern states). Tens of millions of desperate, impoverished people are coming here and clogging our roads, schools, prisons and welfare lines (of which 29% of all illegal aliens are on), without paying one penny of the taxes that fund these services. It is simply unsustainable, and simply ludicrous, and whenever Republicans try to do something about it Democrats call them ignorant racists.

Really, this bill in one state is small potatoes in the larger picture of the issue. The big showdown will come when the congressional voting is over this November and the Obama administration finally tries to tackle immigration reform. The results of that election, and how many Democratic seats he has to work with, will likely shape what proposals the bill will include. In my opinion, true reform would have 3 major components:

1. Make it easier to immigrate here legally. Instead of prospective immigrants having to jump through all kinds of hoops and prove why they SHOULD be allowed to come here, the govt. should have to have a good reason why they SHOULDN’T be allowed to come here if they want to block them. Citizenship is not a right to anyone who wants to enter, but it should still be easier to acquire than it is currently. Such reforms would make many people on the left very happy!

2. Make it harder to immigrate here illegally. Bigger and tougher fences. More border police. Tougher sanctions on under-the-table employers to deter them from aiding and abetting this crime by giving the salary incentive for immigrants to move here. Recognize that it is economically and militarily essential that the unending stream of aliens be curbed as much as possible. Both parties would likely support this goal, although the means by which to do it (fences vs. employment sanctions) would likely be contested.

3. Enforce the current laws on all current illegal aliens living within our borders. There is a certain time of residence in this country after which illegal aliens cannot be deported: this is fair, and these people should be put in line for citizenship (albeit behind those who have waited patiently in line the legal way). As for those non-naturalized, recent illegal immigrants, they should be deported, plain and simple. Do I feel bad for them because they’re poor and living in shitty conditions? Sure, but only in the same way I sympathize with someone who’s so poor they’re driven to steal from a bank. That is, not enough to impede the fact that they are fugitives of the law who are inadvertently stealing from other people. If I barged into a special club or sporting advent, didn’t pay admission, and demanded the same services as everyone who did pay admission, I would be promptly thrown into the street, and rightfully so. We need the same fair, if sometimes harsh, reasoning with our borders. The only just punishment for the crime of illegally entering this country is undoing that crime by removing them from the country, and anything resembling a fair reform bill will need to solidify this justice. Republicans would staunchly favor this aspect of the bill, while Democrats would likely loathe it.

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