Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Arizona’s Illegal Immigration Law: Vigilante Legislation?

I’m sure everyone is by now familiar with Arizona’s recent decision to impose what is the strongest piece of legislation against illegal immigration in the US. But was Arizona’s new anti-illegal law really necessary? Does it go too far? Not far enough? And why would a state in America’s southwest, apparently enact legislation that should be the responsibility of the federal government? There has been tens of thousands of protestors, as well as supporters taking to the streets (though the media has focused primarily on the former while either ignoring or downplaying the latter). President Obama initially seemed to take a greater offense at the audacity of Arizona’s Republican Governor, Janet Brewer signing the bill than the bill itself. Opponents, including the Obama Administration, have vowed to challenge the bill at every step, including a ballot measure this November to have it rescinded. So, what led up to this firestorm?

Arizona has long been known a state for the rugged individual, perhaps characterized best by the Old West (it most popular Western mythos being Tombstone and the “Showdown at the OK Corral”). In more recent years, towns like Tucson, Phoenix, Sun City, and Flagstaff have grown from tourist stops to retirement destinations, though tourist remains a key component of the state’s budget. Its landscape is nothing short of majestic. Ever watch a Western? Chances are you saw Arizona’s magnificent Monument Valley, and who has never heard of that really big ditch known as the Grand Canyon? Industry too has flocked to Arizona over the years. But despite what should be the brightest spot in the Sunbelt, illegal immigration has acted like a dark cloud.

Because of its economic growth, Arizona seems to have been targeted by some of Mexico’s most violent druglords and gangs. Arizona is now considered the “de facto” gateway of illegal drugs into America. In 2009 alone, federal agents seized 1.2 million pounds of pot. That’s 1.5 tons per day! And that’s just pot. According to an April 27, 2010 article, until recently, federal prosecutors weren’t even bothering to prosecute anyone busted with less than 500 pounds of marijuana. Federal authorities have been simply been overwhelmed with drug dealers peddling the seriously dangerous stuff such as cocaine, heroin, crack, and other vile substances.

Of course, moving drugs takes “soldiers”, and none are better than the violent gangs who’ve moved and in from Mexico. They’ve recruited well, mainly from illegal aliens and poorer sections of cities. Their presence has grown large and in some cases, they’re better equipped in firepower than local law enforcement. There are whole sections of some Arizona communities where law enforcement won’t venture without mounting a near military style invasion. As a result, many of these gangs have become incredibly more brazen to the point that Phoenix has become the kidnapping capital of America. Individuals, most often with no connection to drugs or crimes, are simply snatched off the street or out their homes and held for ransom (the average ransom price is around $15,000). In 2008, there were an estimated 370 kidnappings in Phoenix (I say “estimated” because many kidnappings are not reported). Enter large scale illegal immigration.

Over the past 10 years, Arizona has become not just the gateway of druglords, but of illegal aliens looking to cross the border. What was a trickle has now become a flood. Many come to for a better life as most every immigrant has for centuries. Some come here to take advantage of America’s generous taxpayer based public assistance programs (including use of the “natural born” loophole). Many come here on their own. Others are assisted by well meaning citizens, existing family, churches (especially the Catholic Church), and naturally, the criminal element. They are often provided with “safe houses” and given assistance in finding jobs, permanent shelter, and ways to both avoid detection and make use of various government programs. Most have no interest or intent on changing their status from illegal to legal. They’re here for the work, not to become US citizens. A few, such as those who work on farms, return home after the season is over, however, most remain.

In Arizona alone, there are 460,000 illegal immigrants. That’s larger than some US cities like St. Louis or New Orleans. Over the past three years, the Border Patrol has made 990,000 arrests. That’s almost 900 per day! Arizona has taken several steps to help discourage illegal from entering the state. In 2004, residents voted in favor of legislation banning some welfare benefits to illegals. In 2006, another law was passed denying additional taxpayer based benefits and making English the official state language. In 2007, then Governor Janet Napolitino signed into law the toughest employment legislation in America pertaining to the hiring of illegal immigrants. And, of course, all the while, Arizona has been front and center in lobbying efforts to “build the wall” along the border, as well as to increase federal funding for additional border security. Much of this has been for naught.

Despite an overwhelming majority of Americans opposed to illegal immigration, Washington, both under Bush and now Obama, has lacked the will to create and implement a coherent and enforceable policy. It was out of this frustration which Arizona has faced for decades which prompted Arizona in create and impose its own immigration policy.

The illegal immigration legislation (SP 1070) signed by Governor Janet Brewer was sponsored by State Senator Russell Pearce of Mesa. The bill makes it a state crime for immigrants not to carry authorization papers, requires the police “when practicable” to check the immigration status of people they reasonably suspect are in the country illegally and allows people to sue cities and counties if the law is not being enforced. Critics claim there are too many possibilities of “abuse” and words like “Nazi” and police state” have been invoked by opponents. But the fact is that even legal immigrants are required to carry proof of residency. Police must have “probable cause” to stop and question a suspect. They can’t simply stop someone because they’re Hispanic looking. Local Hispanic businesses complain that the new law will hurt business. How? They can’t continue to hire and sell to illegal immigrants, which they shouldn’t be doing in the first place.

Some of the language of the bill has already been modified in order to be more specific, which hopefully will make it easier for law enforcement to enforce and prosecutors to prosecute. Meanwhile, opponents want to see the law completed removed from the books; essentially opening up the border to more of the same, which Arizona can’t afford and the citizens won’t tolerate.

So, what’s the answer? Arizonians are sick and tired of being sick and tired of Washington’s failure. They have had enough of the violence and crime. In the absence of leadership, people will take action on their own, and that’s something I don’t think anyone wants to see happen. Therefore, Governor Brewer has stepped up to the plate. Will the law stand? I think it will. In the absence of a federal policy, a state has the right to enact legislation it deems most appropriate so long as no existing federal laws are violated. However, I think the real intent of the legislation was to embarrass Washington into getting off its collective duff and finally do something.

Washington needs to look at ways to strengthen the economies of Latin America, not just focus on its “War on Drugs”, which even the most ardent supported has to admit is nothing more than holding action at best, and to stabilized national governments. Washington’s role must not be to dictate to, but partner as equals with these governments. It’s also time to take another look at the “War of Drugs”. Perhaps too it’s time pot should finally be decriminalized. But these are long term goals and may be part of a comprehensive overall immigration policy. In the short, I expect other border states to take similar steps unless something is done. So, was this a piece of “vigilante” legislation as opponents allege? Obviously the answer is no. It was born out of decades of frustration. We can only hope Washington finally gets the message.

Poll Results

We asked in our last poll is the US should ever use retaliate with nukes. The poll was prompted by President Obama’s recently START agreement with the Russians. Since then, the US has officially divulged the total number of nuclear arsenal---once a state secret. We have just over 5000 for the record.

Meanwhile, we wanted to know what you thought. 23% of you said only in response to an attack of mass destruction (WMD). Another 23% of you said only if someone has or is trying to nuke us first. The rest of you said the America had the right to respond with nukes in the event of any attack (including chemical or biological). I quite agree. America, or any other nation for that matter, has the right and moral obligation to defend its citizens “by any means necessary” (thank you Malcolm X for the quote). I don’t believe we should ever take any options off the table. It only emboldens our enemies and weakens the resolve of our friends.

No comments: