Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Immigration and the New Law in Arizona (Part 1)

The recent passage of a controversial immigration law in Arizona has put the vague memories of the health care debate far into the recesses of the national political buzz. And as many of our national debates, it seems both sides are so focused on different issues that it is completely impossible for our nation to address this issue in a simple common sense and effective way.

Let me present what I think are the legitimate arguments on each side, and then present what how I think the scientific theory of porosity should be applied to developing a rational and reasonable policy.

Before I start, I must say I’m married to a legal immigrant, born in Peru but now a naturalized American citizen (with a US passport to prove it!). My in-laws who live in the US are all here legally (e.g., my mother-in-law has her green card to prove it). What I have found that it’s much easier for us as Americans to travel to Peru to visit the relatives than it is for some of them (particularly children and teens) to get tourist visas to visit us here.

The Border in Arizona
Simply put, the border in Arizona is quite porous and illegal crossings occur daily. But more troublesome is the drug trafficking and associated crimes including murders of citizens and law enforcement officers alike. My reading of the situation is that this combination of illegal crossings intertwined with criminal activities has many saying “enough is enough.” Furthermore, the criminal activity has many in fear of illegal immigrants as how can one tell which ones are the armed drug runners or other dangerous criminals.

All sides agree that it is the Federal government’s sole responsibility to regulate immigration and border crossings. But, many have noted that for decades now, the Federal government has not done enough to control the border in Arizona. In some places (such as San Ysidro, CA Tiajuana, Mexico), there are walls, border patrols and designated entry points where documents are checked. But in other places, particularly remote areas, there is little in the way to prevent entry into the US.

The proponents of the new law say that it is needed because the Federal government did not do its job regarding controlling the border.

What Does a Person Suspected of Being Illegally in the US Look Like?
The gist of the opposition to the new law deals with how it might be enforced. In particular, how does a law enforcement officer come to have reason that someone may be illegally here?

So let’s be frank. While the law prohibits “profiling” and the law’s supporters say there will be no profiling, I still ask myself, how does an officer come to suspect someone in the US illegally? If it’s not by skin color, or accent or language, what is it? Sure, some people might look suspicious, like they’re trying to hide something or fleeing when they see the police approaching.

But, if someone is not doing anything criminal or suspicious, how can one suspect someone is illegally here and not a legal immigrant or a native-born American with the same “look” as an immigrant? Many wonder will this turn into situations where people are stopped for DWH (driving while Hispanic) or DWL (Driving while Latino)? It’s happened to other racial and ethnic groups. It could happen; the politicians and other supporters are not the same people as the cops who have to enforce the law on a daily basis.

“Show Me Your Papers!”
For those suspected, law enforcement will ask “Show me your papers!” Now for a legal foreign visitor, they’re probably carrying their passport. In fact, when in a foreign country, I usually carry my passport, so this is reasonable. For those with a work visa, they can produce a “green card.” If there is strong enforcement of the law, it would seem to be advisable that those with “green cards” carry them at all times, just in case they are stopped or with someone who is stopped. In this case, the burden of always carrying a “green card” is not much more that always carrying a driver’s license, which is something most of us do.

But here’s the problem for libertarians: what about American citizens who “look foreign” (to be frank, who look Hispanic or Latino). Some may be naturalized citizens, others born here, and others may be American citizens for generations. But they may still look like people who may be in the US illegally. Will this subject American citizens to have to prove they are Americans?

What if this applied to other Americans in Arizona? Would they like having to carry a passport of birth certificate to “prove” they are Americans?

What happened to the America where a citizen never had to “prove” they belong here? It’s bad enough we have to do this when we get a new job. (Why should law-abiding, American citizens be subjected to this scrutiny just because of a minority who apply for work illegally?)

Now the politicians and supporters will tell us this won’t be the case or this isn’t a problem. But, let’s be real. It will happen from time to time. And this is a slippery slope from asking a few Hispanic Americans citizens in Arizona to prove they belong here toward having a national identity card or similar way for big government to check on us, even if we’ve done nothing wrong. To me, asking even a few American citizens in Arizona to “show us your papers” is something that reeks of Nazi Germany and other repressive regimes.

The New Libertarian Socialist View of Immigration
Let me digress to present the origins of my beliefs as a “new libertarian socialist.”

The true Libertarian (not the view of conservatives in Libertarian clothes) position on immigration is the free migration of all peoples, regardless of international boundaries. Clearly, none of the conservatives in Arizona espouse this view!

The Christian Socialist view sees the immigrant as the stranger whom we should welcome, much as Christ said that we welcome him when we welcome the least among us who is a stranger in our land. This view is also not embraced by supporters of the new law. What is lost in the rhetoric is that even those here illegally are human beings, and like all humans they are created in the image of God.

Clearly, these viewpoints do not appear to align with ringing support of the law. And they clearly in opposition to the demonization of people who are illegally in the US, rhetoric we hear from many with a conservative viewpoint on immigration. But even those who are here illegally are still human beings, as the something else you might read on some blogs and websites.

But how do we get from the status of chaos to a state where immigrants are here legally? The current national debate will never get us to a conclusion as both sides have to feed “red meat” sound bites to their political bases. The politicians are forced into the more extreme positions, so we can’t look to Washington to solve this problem.

Nevertheless, as a practically-oriented engineer, I think the real workable solution lies clearly in between the political extremes.

A Better Approach: Start with What We Agree On
I think most people agree we have a mess in the border states. Immigration is out of control. This is the Federal government’s job and it’s not been done.

I think there is a majority who would like to see the current mess transformed into a situation where those in the US who are not citizens are here legally. This would be accompanied by reasonable controls to allow a number of legal immigrants to fill jobs where there is a need. And, this would also provide the protection of the law for those non-citizens who are here legally. These legal immigrants would pay taxes and need not fear law enforcement officers as they would have the documentation to prove their legal status.

I think many would agree this would be a more organized state of affairs.

What is the Solution? What are the Alternatives?
To be continued in Part 2.