Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Che pasa?

The new Arizona immigration law is unconstitutional, violating the Fourth Amendment prohibition against "unreasonable searches and seizures." It should be struck down as soon as a case hits the courts, and the municipal governments of Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff are considering filing suits against the law. Meanwhile, an effort is underway to get a referendum question onto Arizona's November ballot to repeal it.

Conservatives use immigration as a political issue -- both in Arizona and nationally -- but the truth is that without undocumented workers the US economy wouldn't be able to function. To look at one example, the cost of fruits and vegetables would skyrocket if immigrant laborers weren't doing the harvesting for low wages. The same is true in the restaurant business, among construction crews and a number of other fields. America needs immigrants.

Further, it's completely unrealistic to think that the country could gather up the 12 million undocumented immigrants to send that back to their point of origin. It's logistically impossible, and it'll never happen. So let's start thinking about real-world approaches to this issue instead of political sloganeering and vilifying people who are, overwhelmingly, just trying to feed their families. And, it must be said, that sometimes it is the effects of American government policy that has put some Latinos in a position where they must walk through a dessert or stuff themselves into a trunk to find work. (Check out the consequences of US government agricultural subsidies on farmers in Mexico.)

The big picture is that human beings have been migrating around the planet in search of food, shelter, security and a better climate for as long as we've been a species. Borders drawn by men, only a function of the past century or two, will never stop this. We can play political games with the issue -- as the Republicans are bound to do -- or we can approach the subject rationally and attempt to create policies that make sense. Stopping every brown-skinned Spanish speaker in Arizona is a giant step backwards.

Photo of a man being apprehended near the Arizona/Mexico border from the San Francisco Sentinel.


Matthew said...

I agree that the Arizona law is problematic in many respects and that it would be logistically impossible to deport an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. You are also correct that “human beings have been migrating around the planet in search of food, shelter, security and a better climate for as long as we've been a species.” The key difference between now, the early 1900s, thousands of years ago, etc., is that modern day “migrants” to the United States aren’t just scavengers for food, or even jobs, but rather are exploiting our system of social services and entitlements – for everything from food stamps, health care, public housing, etc. While I am sympathetic to the plight of the poor and disadvantaged – I am a supporter of the Pine Street Inn and other charities – it is unreasonable and unsustainable to allow the present rate of illegal immigration into our country to continue. The federal government has failed to secure our borders and meaningfully enforce existing immigration laws, so Arizona, and other states to follow, have had to take matters into their own hands. Unfortunately, our elected officials (including Carlo Basile) recently voted against an amendment designed to bar illegal immigrants from obtaining taxpayer-funded benefits:

At a time when we’re closing libraries, phasing out fire stations, laying off teachers, etc., is our city/state/nation really in a position to extend costly social services to those who have broken our laws to be here?

Michael said...

I think the issue of undocumented workers gets played as a political football. How come we seldom here cries to crackdown on businesses that hire undocumented workers to the extent we here cries to crack down on immigration? Undocumented workers are knowingly hired with the government looking the other way. If a business does get caught, they receive a slap on the wrist. It is much easier to blame the victim (those made poor by our policies and the policies of multi-national corporations) than to face the underlying issues that cause undocumented workers to come to the USA and other more affluent countries across the world.

Matthew said...

There are often “cries to crackdown on businesses that hire undocumented workers” and these laws are actually enforced to varying degrees by different states. Look no further than the enforcement actions against the leather factory in New Bedford in 2007, poultry plants in the Midwest, etc. These events just don’t get the same level of media coverage as when an innocent rancher in AZ is murdered by a group of illegals crossing the border.

With respect to AZ – it is one of several states (of course Massachusetts does not participate) that requires all employers to use E-Verify to verify an individual’s legal status prior to extending an offer of employment:

“E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). E-Verify is currently free to employers and is available in all 50 states. It provides an automated link to federal databases to help employers determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security numbers. While its usage remains voluntary throughout the country, some states have passed legislation making its use mandatory for certain businesses.”

Unfortunately, unless all states and employers fully embrace E-Verify and other similar programs, businesses will still seek out illegal, lower cost labor and immigrants will still break the law to enter the country in search of work (although I suspect free health care, food stamps, public housing, etc. are probably more appealing than the prospect of a job alone). While watching footage of the AZ immigration protest, it was interesting to see several signs which read “Obama: End E-Verify Now.” Thus these pro-immigration groups are not just concerned about the potential for racial profiling (a valid concern) under the new law, but want to further erode existing laws and the ability of businesses and government agencies to ensure that job applicants are legally authorized to work.

Check out for more information.