President Obama had it about right, in my view, when he called Arizona’s new immigration law "misguided" and a threat to "basic notions of fairness" and to "trust between police and our communities."
Similar misgivings — filtered through a legal doctrine called "field pre-emption" — seem more likely than not to persuade the courts to strike the law down.
But please, let’s can the hysteria. The problems with this law — and with copycat proposals in at least 10 other states — are a far cry from the images of Nazi Germany, apartheid, and the Jim Crow South conjured up by leftists who would denounce any effort to discourage illegal immigration.
To correct some misconceptions:
• The solid majority support for the law among Arizonans — and the 51 percent support among other Americans who told Gallup pollsters that they had heard of the Arizona law — is not driven by racism. It’s driven by frustration with the federal government’s failure to protect Arizona and other border states from seeing their neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, and prisons flooded by illegal immigrants. Worse, "It’s terrifying to live next door to homes filled with human traffickers, drug smugglers, AK-47s, pit bulls, and desperate laborers stuffed 30 to a room, shoes removed to hinder escape," as Eve Conant reported in Newsweek.
• Although it’s true, and most unfortunate, that absent robust administrative safeguards the Arizona law could lead to racial profiling by police, it certainly does not require racial profiling. Indeed, a package of revisions signed on April 30 by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer seeks to prohibit racial profiling. The revisions did this by deleting the word "solely" from the original, April 23, law’s provision barring investigation of "complaints that are based solely on race, color, or national origin."
Largely overlooked in the immigration debate roiling Congress and the nation are two themes that should be front and center. The first is that all efforts to control illegal immigration will be futile unless Congress requires workers to have forgery-proof, theft-proof identity cards — ideally embedded with biometric data matching the bearer’s thumbprint or iris scan — and imposes heavy penalties on employers who hire people without such cards. The second is that nobody seems to have any idea how to interest the millions of chronically unemployed Americans — especially inner-city males — in the low-paying jobs that go to illegal immigrants because Americans supposedly don’t want them.
So here’s a modest three-part plan. It would cut down the flow of illegals as efficiently and humanely as possible; use a federally funded minimum-wage increase to bring at least some unemployed Americans into the job market; and, while we’re at it, narrow the vast income gap between skilled and unskilled workers.
First, Congress should create a system of forgery-proof, theft-proof identity cards and a more robust enforcement process to put teeth in the laws against employing illegal immigrants. The influx of illegals will plunge if these workers cannot find jobs.
Experience shows that as long as there are jobs for illegal immigrants, neither a wall along the Mexican border — unless festooned with machine-gun towers and troops under orders to shoot climbers on sight — nor such punitive measures as making illegal immigration a felony will greatly slow the influx.
The 1986 immigration reform law sought to slow the flow of illegals by slapping sanctions on employers who hire them (while giving amnesty to the millions already here). But a coalition of employers eager to hire low-paid, hardworking illegals and libertarians obsessed with the specter of Big Brother killed proposals to create forgery-proof, theft-proof identity cards.
"Metaphorically each rich nation can be seen as a lifeboat…. In the ocean outside each lifeboat swim the poor of the world…. What should the lifeboat passengers do? … Suppose the 50 of us in the lifeboat see 100 others swimming in the water outside, begging for admission to our boat…. We could take them all into our boat, making a total of 150 in a boat designed for 60. The boat swamps, everyone drowns. Complete justice, complete catastrophe."
"The narcissism and duplicity of Chavez’s [Jan. 9] press conference announcing her withdrawal … was simply staggering…. She trotted out a gaggle of immigrant admirers to offer staged testimonials about her history of assisting those in need…. Even the Bush team had abandoned the absurd pretense that Marta Mercado was not Linda Chavez’s employee…. You shouldn’t exploit [illegal immigrants]…. What’s more, rather than tell the Bush team the truth … she lied." -The New Republic
"Reasonable people would call a two-year houseguest who is not a relative and who vacuums, does laundry, looks after the kids, and receives free room and board and spending money a maid. But Ms. Chavez had insisted that Marta Mercado … was a needy charity case…. [Chavez] telephoned a former neighbor, presumably to coach her on what to say about Ms. Mercado [to] FBI agents…. The law is quite clear. Harboring an illegal alien is a felony." -The New York Times
"As one online political wag put it, is this the definition of compassionate conservatism, to bring illegal immigrants into your house, put them to work, and then not pay them?" -Los Angeles Times
These are some of the things they said about Linda Chavez as her nomination to be Labor Secretary was going up in smoke. For giving from 1991-93 what liberals used to call "sanctuary" to a battered and depressed illegal immigrant from Guatemala who clearly was a needy charity case, the conservative Chavez has now been smeared as an exploiter, a criminal, a liar, and a hypocrite.
California’s voters have given us an occasion for melancholy reflection about the moral underpinnings of immigration policy, and about the condition of democracy in America. By a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent, Californians voted Nov. 8 to enlarge the underclass by kicking out of school hundreds of thousands of children of illegal immigrants; to increase crime by condemning them to roam the streets; to spread infectious disease by denying them vaccinations and other basic health care; and to create a police state by enlisting teachers, doctors, nurses, and even the children themselves as Soviet-style informants against their parents.
All this, also known as Proposition 187, is brought to you by some of the same "conservatives" who are so eager to stem the expansion of our home-grown underclass as to tout the "let ‘ em starve" variant of welfare reform, and so eager to liberate The People from big-government meddling as to seek tax cuts that would bankrupt the nation.
Of course Proposition 187 supporters like California Gov. Pete Wilson say that the vote was about saving the taxpayers the estimated $1.4 billion a year that it costs to educate more than 300,000 children of illegal immigrants. But any short-term savings will be dwarfed by the long-term costs.
Supporters also suggest that 187 will discourage illegals from coming to sponge off U.S. taxpayers. The columnist George Will, for example, paints the initiative as a righteous refusal of "welfare state" benefits to "people seeking entitlements from a state in which their presence was illegal." This effort to tar public education as some kind of exotic welfare-state entitlement combines demagogic pap with mindless scapegoating of innocent children.