6 short points on immigration reform

July 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

from Andres Oppenheimer, the Miami Herald.

The news has been mostly bad for those of us opposed to Arizona’s anti-immigration law: Polls show a huge majority of Americans support the legislation, and key candidates for November’s mid-term elections are now saying they want similar laws for their own states.

There’s no question something has to be done to stop the steady flow of immigrants. But I would like to ask six questions to supporters of the Arizona law, and to politicians who are considering similar legislation in as many as 18 other states:

1: Are you aware the Arizona law turns every Hispanic in Arizona, including U.S. citizens, into a potential suspect? Do you like the idea of police stopping members of the largest U.S. minority group because of the color of their skin or because of their Spanish accent?

Granted, the Arizona law was amended to demand that police engage in the “lawful stop, detention or arrest” of people before inquiring about their immigration status. Supporters of the law say this means police can only stop people in connection with other crimes. But, in reality, “lawful stop” can mean many things, including stopping a person to ask whether they saw something suspicious around the corner.

2: Do you know that the stated reason for the Arizona law — a wave of crime brought about by undocumented immigrants — is not backed by the state’s official statistics?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent crime in Arizona fell from 531 to 447 people per 100,000 inhabitants over the eight years ending in 2008. Nationwide, while the nation’s illegal immigrant population doubled from 1994 to 2004, the violent crime rate declined 35 percent.

3: Do you know that the Arizona Police Chiefs Association opposes the law, saying it will drain the state’s law enforcement resources? In addition, undocumented immigrants will think twice before giving police tips on crimes or terrorist plots — or before they rescue somebody from a car accident, it says.

4: Are you aware that Los Angeles and several other U.S. cities have voted to boycott Arizona? In Duluth, the Human Rights Commission urged a boycott in June. Arizona’s tourism board has said such boycotts already have cost the financially ailing state $90 million. In addition, Arizona-like laws could cripple the tourism industry of the states that adopt them: Many of the estimated 16 million Latin Americans traveling to the United States every year may decide to skip places where they fear they will be stopped by police because they speak Spanish.

5: Do you know that the reason so many immigrants enter the United States illegally is because they can’t get in legally? Under the dysfunctional current U.S. immigration system, the U.S. labor market employs up to 500,000 low-skilled workers a year, but the U.S. government gives only 5,000 permanent legal visas a year in that category.

6: Even if you support the Arizona law, is it worth turning the country into a quasi-police state, making every member of its largest minority group a suspected criminal and losing billions of dollars in legal costs and boycotts? Or would it make more sense to update the country’s immigration laws, creating an immigration system that welcomes legal immigrants and discourages illegal ones?

I say the latter, and I’m in good company: A New York Times/CBS News poll shows that while 51 percent of Americans support the Arizona law, 89 percent say the federal government needs to update existing immigration laws. Sixty-four percent say there should be a path to citizenship or temporary residency for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already here.

There is a much better — and less traumatic — way to solve this problem than Arizona’s de facto racial-profiling law: passing a comprehensive immigration law that secures the border, punishes employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers, provides a path to earned legalization for undocumented immigrants and significantly increases the number of U.S. visas for workers the country needs.


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