Two weeks ago, Jan Brewer, Governor of Arizona, signed SB 1070 into law. Also known as the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” this bill is an extremely stringent piece of immigration enforcement legislation.
In response, protestors smeared swastikas on the state Capitol with refried beans.
Let’s review what’s in the bill before we start invoking Nazism:
First, law enforcement officers in AZ are now authorized during a “lawful contact” to make a “reasonable attempt, when practicable” to “determine the immigration status of the person.”
What this means in English is that any law enforcement officer that stops a person for a separate offense is allowed to inquire if that person is an American citizen, and if they are not, to verify their immigration papers.
Second, SB 1070 compels all government and law enforcement agencies and personnel to uphold existing federal immigration law. This means that there will be no more “sanctuary cities” in Arizona, such as Phoenix and Tucson, that intentionally refuse to enforce immigration law.
Lastly, half the language in SB 1070 meters out punishments for employers that hire illegal workers. This is understandable; greater punishments for hiring illegal workers means fewer businesses will risk hiring them, and a reduction in available jobs will reduce illegal immigration overall.
The important thing to remember here is that SB 1070 creates absolutely no new law. In effect, this bill vests AZ state and local law enforcement officers with powers parallel to those of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Since ICE is unable or unwilling to fulfill its mandate, AZ legislators have taken the reins.
Washington eschews immigration policy due to the political backlash against anyone who supports a tighter border. Neither side wants to alienate (no pun intended) the Hispanic vote, so the feds shrug as millions of illegal workers pole vault the Rio Grande.
What puzzles me most is that neither side seems concerned with what is best for the workers themselves.
The decision to enter America illegally is understandable, and in many ways laudable. Who could scorn a person who wishes to work toward a better life? The decision between starvation and hopping a fence is an easy one.
However, entering America illegally puts workers at a severe disadvantage; their aspirations cannot realistically extend beyond menial labor. These jobs do not pay what most would consider a living wage, and so we are, in effect, moving poverty from one side of the border to the other. Wouldn’t it be better if we worked on eliminating poverty altogether rather than simply transplanting it?
Make no mistake, this is not altruism. While I support the efforts of those who want to work, America has concerns of her own. But perhaps our problems and the problems of our neighbor have a shared solution.
The encroaching retirement of the baby boomers and the mounting federal debt both require the same fix: more workers. We need more hands to pick up the slack left by the receding generation. To our South, we have a massive wellspring of labor.
The chief hurdle: acquiring a US work visa can take over a year. Families living in squalor can hardly be expected to wait for tectonic movements of paperwork when a more immediate option is available.
Solution: streamline the work visa process, specifically for Mexican applicants, to 60 days or less. By making the legal option more accessible, illegal immigration becomes less attractive.
Entering our country legally allows workers all the rights and protections of American labor law — rights and protections they are often denied when they choose to enter illegally. Further, legal workers earn minimum wage, and must pay federal taxes, a benefit to both the worker and the nation.
The cries of racism from the left are preposterous. This is not a question of nationality, but of security. The American Southwest is the only place on earth where a first world nation shares a two thousand mile border with a developing nation. Vigilance here is necessary, not prejudicial.
But the cultural xenophobia of the right is just as misguided. Whether immigrants speak Spanish or English, and whether they prefer salsa or schnitzel, we should be grateful for their efforts, and strive to give them every opportunity to work legally.
Tragically, SB 1070 will lead to episodes of racial discrimination, it’s true. Young Hispanics will be asked to prove citizenship more often than Caucasian grandmothers. But we should remember why this law was passed at all.
SB 1070 is an act of desperation. By abdicating responsibility, Washington has tossed the potato to Arizona. Mexico does not border solely on Arizona, however, and they will eventually have to toss it back.
But Obama doesn’t want the potato; he won’t risk the Hispanic vote. Congress doesn’t want the potato; Speaker Pelosi has made it clear that San Francisco is a sanctuary city.
Perhaps, some day, we will elect someone with the courage to catch the potato. Until then, and while Arizona juggles, I don’t see any problem with making work visas more practical.
Jubal McMillan is an Escalon businessman, Video Xtreme, and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.