Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Immigration Policy and Politics: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

By Stephen Erickson

In April the state of Arizona enacted a now famous statute that would make it a crime for immigrants not to carry immigration documents. The proposed new law would have given the police the authority to check for such papers if an officer stopped someone for any reason, such as a traffic violation or even just suspicious behavior. Opponents have argued that it is an invitation to harassment of Latinos and ethnic profiling , which it probably is. The Obama Administration took extraordinary steps of challenging the Arizona law in court, and recently won a partial victory, undoing the law’s most controversial provisions .

In arguing its case, the Justice Department charged that the Arizona usurped federal authority to control immigration. There is no little irony here, since - with 12 million or so illegals living in the United States - the federal government is clearly not controlling immigration. Arizonans and other citizens of border states are increasingly the victims of violent drug gangs and immigrant smuggling cartels. Border state police and social services are strained to the breaking point. Does the federal government really have the right not to control our borders and keep the states from doing so?

Since Washington is not doing its job to secure the borders, shouldn’t it be the states that are suing the federal government, and not the reverse?

The Administration’s lawsuit seems as much about politics as it is about policy. The US Senate this spring suddenly shifted its priorities away from a climate and energy bill to immigration when Democrats decided that they might mobilize Latinos in fall elections against the Republicans. The New York Times reported that White House officials said the President was not involved in the Justice Department’s decision to sue Arizona. Uh huh. The White House must think voters are pretty dumb. They obviously want the Latino vote but don’t want native whites in border states to be too angry with the President. If only this were about good policy rather than good politics.

The ugliest stuff on immigration, however, comes from the xenophobic Right, who are quick to place blame for immigration-related problems on poor and desperate Mexicans rather than on the native-born US businesses that hire them for low wages. Most illegals – hard working and decent – would arguably make better citizens than their heartless accusers. On various conservative websites it is not uncommon to see postings suggesting that illegal immigrants should be shot at the border. An overabundance of the Spanish language and Latino culture seems enough to set many people off into nativist conniptions. They’ve forgotten – if they ever knew – thatmmigration has historically strengthened the United States. Current waves of Mexicans and other Spanish-speaking peoples, if properly regulated, are no different.

In some ways the immigration policies of the Obama Administration are an improvement over thos of its predecessor. Employers are being targeted and heavily fined. As this report shows, instead of armed INS raids, single white-collar officials are combing payroll lists for illegals and efficiently terminating their jobs by the hundreds.

But the effectiveness of this approach is devastating whole agricultural communities in which businesses cannot find legal laborers willing to do the hard manual work of picking fruits and vegetables, and immigrants, some of whom have been in the US for many years, can no longer support themselves.

The tragic foolishness of the immigration debate today is that everyone but the extremists and political opportunists appreciates what needs to be done. In a single piece of legislation, effect the following actions in sequence: 1) secure the border with every bit of hardware, fencing and manpower a nativist could want so there is no doubt that the border is indeed tightly defended; 2) provide amnesty and a path to citizenship for all of the otherwise-law-abiding illegal immigrants already in the United States, facing the fact that our loose borders and eager employers have as much as invited them to come; and 3) expand our guest-worker programs so that we have sufficient foreign labor to do the work US citizens will not do, thereby ignoring the complaints of US Labor Unions. The answers to our immigration problems are not rocket science. Far more complex are the issues that plague the American political system, which cannot even resolve matters like immigration with obvious and widely understood solutions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephen Erickson is the Executive Director and Founder of CenterMovement.org. He has a background in American History including completion of course requirements for a Doctorate at the College of William and Mary in 1993. Erickson went on to participate in the Term Limits movement. He is the author “James Madison’s Case for Term Limits” (Policy Review, 1990) and “The Entrenching of Incumbency: Re-elections in the US House of Representatives, 1790-1994,” (Cato Journal, Winter 1995). Erickson has worked as a teacher, in small business, and real estate. He enjoys local theater, where he has been an actor and a playwright. Stephen Erickson is married, the proud father of two boys, and cherishes life in his native New England.

Read here about Stephen Erickson’s political journey and his decision to found CenterMovement.org.

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