The Immigration Struggle: Defending Arizona

Stephen H. Unger

May 16, 2010

Has some gang of Nazis taken over the state of Arizona? That is the impression one might get from the outrage expressed over recent passage of a state law calling for local and state police to become involved in the enforcement of certain federal laws pertaining to immigration [Cohn]. What is this all about? What does the law actually say? What motivated passage? Who is opposing it? Is it really a bad thing?

Should We Open Our Borders and Let Everybody In?

One could argue (and some do) that anybody in the world should have the liberty to cross any border and to become a resident of any country. That sounds great. Does it make sense? Rather than discuss the idea in general, let's see how it might apply to the US. (I presented the ideas summarized in this section and the next in a recent article [Unger].)

We are facing today a daunting array of serious problems. Water supplies for agriculture, industry and domestic use are being depleted, e.g., water tables in the fertile farming areas of California are falling to perilously low levels. Soil depletion is a major problem due to intensive industrial farming practices. Arable land is being paved over. Environmental pollution is a growing concern, as is the related matter of waste disposal. Meeting our excessive demand for energy is an ongoing struggle.

There are now many millions of impoverished Americans and many middle-class Americans are in a precarious financial state. The influx of legal and illegal immigrants (currently totaling about 1.7 million annually) is being used by big corporations to depress wages and degrade working conditions. Our industrial base is crumbling as a consequence of "free trade" policies further enriching the already rich. Public schools and colleges are going thru hard times.

There are billions of very poor people in the world. Any one of them would be materially better off by emigrating to the US. What if they were all given this option? If even a fraction of them came here, we would be inundated with impoverished people. Imagine the consequences of having to cope with hundreds of millions of them. Consider how this would exacerbate the problems mentioned above? How would this affect the lives of Americans currently at the bottom economically (including many recent immigrants)? What would be the impact on middle-class Americans?

Opening our borders to unrestricted immigration would be to invite disaster. We are already in trouble as our population, which would otherwise be leveling off, is currently increasing, due to immigration (mostly illegal) [Knickerbocker], at an annual rate of just under 1%. Currently about 309 million, it is projected to exceed 420 million by 2050. We need to cut immigration to a minimum. Since we cannot solve the problems of the impoverished people of the world by inviting them all to come here, what can we do to help them?

Help People in Their Homeland

The first thing for the US to do is to stop contributing to misery in other countries by supporting oppressive governments. We should stop promoting trade policies that damage ordinary people in all the countries involved. For example, one important reason for people heading North from Mexico is the ruination of Mexican farmers due to the flooding of Mexico with government subsidized US grain. The treaties involved, such as NAFTA, also hurt American workers.

On the positive side, we need to step up foreign aid programs, both qualitatively and quantitatively. There is an old saying that it is better to give poor people fish nets than to give them fish. Even better is to show them how to make their own fish nets. Truly constructive foreign aid programs would be real win-win operations helping people in other countries and, as a bonus, relieving the pressure on our borders. Now let's look at Arizona.

What is the Arizona Law About?

Bordering on Mexico, Arizona is the destination of large numbers of people from Mexico and other Central American nations. It is estimated that the illegal immigrant population of Arizona increased from 330,000 in 2000 to 560,000 in 2008 (where the total population is under 6.6 million) . They often arrive with children and conceive more while here. Almost all are very poor. The result is an imposition of significant costs on state and local governments for schooling and medical treatment. Other costs, invariably associated with poverty, include food stamps, welfare programs and added crime [Krikorian].

This is in addition to the fact that the availability of a large pool of people willing to work for very little, and in no position to demand good working conditions, means that fewer jobs are available for legal residents of Arizona, including many Hispanic Americans who were immigrants not long ago. The jobs taken are in agriculture, meat packing plants, construction, hotels, restaurants, yard work, and the like. Unless they are willing to accept the pay and working conditions offered to illegals, legal residents have little chance to get those jobs.

Altho adequate federal laws exist for safeguarding our borders and prohibiting employers from hiring illegals, these have been only laxly enforced, as is evident from the large influx of illegals. The state law was written in response to widespread outrage at the failure of the federal government to address the problem [Kobach].

Basically, the new Arizona law (2162) makes various actions that violate federal law pertaining to aliens also violations of Arizona law [Smith]. A principal provision makes it a misdemeanor to violate the federal law requiring non-citizens to carry identity documents. There are also provisions penalizing the transportation or hiring of illegal immigrants, again replicating federal law. (Note that a 2007 Arizona law made the hiring of illegals a state, as well as a federal offense.) I will focus on the part that authorizes police to ask for immigration documents under certain circumstances, since accusations have been made that this entails "racial profiling".

What is Racial Profiling?

Pernicious racial profiling would be to allocate police resources on the basis of race rather than efficacy in enforcing the law [Cooper]. For example, it would be hard to find a justifiable explanation for police pursuing and ticketing for speeding a disproportionate number of blacks on the New Jersey Turnpike, where exceeding the speed limit is a common practice among all drivers. It is wrong because there is no correlation between speeding and race. Such behavior is a manifestation of bigotry that has properly been widely condemned, and there are ongoing efforts to end it.

But profiling can be a legitimate law enforcement tool. Police officers patrolling the streets are supposed to be alert for signs of criminal activity. Out-of-context activities or people can serve as useful triggers for investigation.

As an example, suppose a church in a middle-class black neighborhood has, on several recent occasions, been vandalized and defaced with racial epithets by unknown persons. Assume that, at 3:00 am, a police officer notices a white man carrying a gym bag, furtively moving toward the church. Would it be wrong for the officer to stop the man for questioning, to ask for ID (an identification document), and to see what is in the bag? Now suppose that, in this example, we interchange the words black and white. Does the answer to the question change? Are either or both of these scenarios instances of pernicious racial profiling?

Consider now enforcement of immigration laws. Federal, and now Arizona, law mandates that non-citizens carry documents, such as visas, indicating that they are in the country legally. Almost every country has such a law. Enforcing it is possible only if law enforcement officers can ask people to produce the documents. Such a requirement to show documents is not a new legal concept.

In all, or almost all, states, drivers are required to carry valid driver's licenses. Because we do not want to subject people to the annoyance of being continually stopped and asked to show their licenses, the law mandates that officers make such requests only if they have reasonable grounds to suspect some sort of infraction of the law, such as a missing license plate, or a car going thru a stop sign, or if a driver appears to be about ten years old.

The Arizona law explicitly includes a similar provision. It states that law-enforcement officers shall inquire about the immigration status only of those they lawfully "stop, detain or arrest", and where there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person is an alien. (The term "reasonable suspicion" is an established legal concept meaning a belief, weaker than probable cause, based on some combination of circumstances beyond a mere hunch [McCarthy].) Suppose, for example, an officer stops a van that went thru a stop sign and recognizes the driver as a woman previously convicted of smuggling people over the border from Mexico. Since it would be reasonable to suspect that the passengers might be illegals, asking them for identification papers would be proper.

In recognition of the racial profiling issue, the law includes a provision that, "A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not solely [emphasis added] consider race, color or national origin in the enforcement of this section except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona constitution." Of course an officer determining whether a person has illegally crossed a border could hardly ignore indications of national origin. Bearing in mind that four out of five illegals in Arizona came from south of the border, it would be absurd to raise the charge of racism if the great majority of those asked for ID were Hispanic. How many illegal aliens in Arizona are blacks or blue-eyed blondes? [This paragraph was corrected 9/26/10]

Consider now how various categories of people will be affected by the new law. Obviously, illegals will be faced with a somewhat greater chance of being identified and deported. If the law is properly enforced, they will also have more difficulty finding work. Many of them may decide to return home, which, of course, is the intent of the law.

Non-citizens here legally will, as is now the case, have to carry the appropriate documents with them. There will be more occasions when they will be asked to show them.

Citizens, particularly Hispanic-Americans, will be strongly motivated to carry either drivers licenses, ID cards issued to non-drivers by the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division, or some other form of ID. Here too the situation will not be qualitatively different, in that federal agents always had the authority to ask for such documents. Note that the law does not require citizens to carry ID. But, as is the case now, not carrying such ID, while not illegal, could lead to inconvenience and wasted time, as a person in this situation might be detained until proof of legal presence is produced. This is where Hispanics are disadvantaged, since they are more likely to be questioned. But this is not an instance of racism or xenophobia. It is, rather, a logical consequence of the fact that the great bulk of illegals in Arizona are Hispanic, and that the obvious way to enforce immigration laws is, on certain occasions, to require that people show ID.

It is unfortunate that a segment of the Arizona population will be inconvenienced, but the extent of the inconvenience should not exaggerated. Virtually everybody nowadays is forced to show ID on many occasions. The fact that Nazi Germany required people to carry ID cards was not in itself a terrible thing. It was the brutal apparatus behind those cards that made them a tool of oppression. The ID cards required today in most European countries are not generally regarded as problematic.

Clearly the process can be abused. Police officers could accost people without legal justification, treat them rudely, or even roughly, or detain them without justification. Such behavior should not be tolerated. Special efforts should be made to treat those asked to produce documents with respect and courtesy. A positive sign is that the state of Arizona has acknowledged the danger. Its police officers will be given special training in the proper application of this law.

The new law increases opportunities for police abuse only slightly. Bigoted officers can harass Hispanics or others quite easily using existing traffic laws, vagrancy laws, etc. We see such behavior all over the country directed at blacks, Hispanics, and other groups. All such manifestations of racism should be vigorously combatted, but it does not help to wildly exaggerate negative effects of the Arizona law and imply that its supporters are Nazis. If we repealed every law that was or might be abused, we would soon live in anarchy. It is significant that polls show over two thirds of Arizona voters support the new law while fewer than one quarter oppose it [Rasmussen].

Who is Against the Arizona Law?

Opponents of the law (and usually of many, if not all, restrictions on immigration) fall into one or more diverse categories. The most powerful group are corporations profiting from the influx of poverty stricken people willing to work for very low wages. The availability of such workers forces other workers to accept lower pay.

A less organized group consists of those who like the idea of having cheap labor around to mow their lawns, clean their houses, or to work in their small businesses. They feel they also benefit from lower prices made possible by lower wages.

There are some labor union leaders who see immigrants, legal or otherwise, as potential new union members. (Most labor leaders are more concerned about the powerful effect of the newcomers in depressing wages.)

Some libertarians oppose any restrictions on the movement of people. (Other libertarians regard the immigrants as trespassers on property—including public property—belonging to current residents.)

Liberals are also divided. Some oppose restrictions on immigration because of concern for poor people outside our borders, while others support restricting immigration out of concern for poor people inside our borders.

Some Concluding Thoughts

Staunching the flow of immigration to our country and the associated swelling of our population will not be easy. Helping improve the lives of poor people in their native lands so as to reduce their desire to come here is one important step. A second step is improving border security to reduce the flow of illegals. Strictly enforcing the laws against hiring illegals, particularly by large corporations, and apprehending and deporting illegals already here is the final line of defense. These are all difficult, costly measures. They can be implemented only very imperfectly, so that we need them all to achieve significant results. It would be wise and humane to treat those being deported, particularly those who volunteer to leave, generously, perhaps paying transportation expenses for them.

Opposition to immigration, legal or illegal, should not be equated with hostility toward immigrants. It is widely recognized that the people coming here are, for the most part, decent people, willing to work hard. The problem is mainly due to corporate interests using immigration to drive down wages. It is interesting that relatively few of those in Arizona and nationwide who are angry about immigration are angry with immigrants. Rather, the great majority of them blame the federal government for failing to stem the flow of illegals.

Many opponents of restrictions on immigration argue that the immigrants are taking jobs that Americans don't want. This is true if the job definitions include pay and working conditions. If it were not for the availability of a large pool of people willing to accept very low pay and harsh working conditions, employers would have to increase wages and improve working conditions to attract workers. There would also be a strong incentive to develop more and better programs to educate and/or rehabilitate members of the large underclass of Americans currently under-or unemployed, or in prisons.

Wage increases will lead to price increases. But these are not likely to be great and will be offset by reductions in the cost of poverty that we all must bear. Think of police, courts, prisons, insurance, welfare, public health.

Ironically, among the principal victims of illegal immigration are low-income Hispanic-Americans, who must compete with the newcomers for jobs. Why do those attacking efforts to end illegal immigration as being cruel to poor people from Mexico ignore the plight of poor Hispanic-Americans already here?

In summary, instead of importing poverty, we should be working to eliminate poverty in the US, and doing our share to help, rather than harm, poor people in other countries. The Arizona law is a small step toward reducing poverty in that state.


Marjorie Cohn, "Arizona Legalizes Racial Profiling", Jurist, April 27, 2010

Stephen H. Unger, , "Immigration: Who wins? Who Loses?", Ends and Means, February 27, 2010

Brad Knickerbocker, "Illegal immigrants in the US: How many are there?", The Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 2006

Mark Krikorian, "Center for Immigration Studies on the New Arizona Immigration Law, SB1070", Center for Immigration Studies report, April 2010

Kris W. Kobach, "Why Arizona Drew a Line ", NY Times, April 28, 2010

Dylan Smith, "Revised text of Arizona immigration law HB 2162 supersedes SB 1070", Tucson Sentinel, April 30, 2010

Andy McCarthy, "Arizona and 'Lawful Contact' ", Forum, May 05, 2010

Scott Rasmussen, "Nationally, 60% Favor Letting Local Police Stop and Verify Immigration Status", Rasmussen Reports, April 26, 2010

Steve Cooper, "A Closer Look at Racial Profiling", FACSnet, June 18, 2001

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