I think I've made it clear enough that I oppose Arizona's new immigration legislation. It's bad law and it intimidates innocent people. But I am trying hard to understand the thinking behind it all. Even when we disagree we need to walk a bit in the opposition's shoes. And it seems to me that all of us hotheads on the boycott bandwagon need to understand what's going on before we get too huffy about the situation.
Governor Jan Brewer was on the radio this morning and basically she said that the only reason they've enacted this legislation is to try to get the nation to act on immigration reform. That is, the rest of you have up to this point failed to act -- victimizing Arizona. Your inaction has created this problem. You have backed Arizona into a corner and the state is desperately attempting to get a hearing. You've turned deaf ears to every other attempt to get your attention.
What percentage of the population in YOUR state is without legal standing? How much of the crime in YOUR state is directly related to illegal foreign nationals? How many human trafficking rings operate in YOUR cities?
Arizona is a state where 5-10% of the population is undocumented (depending on which study you read). Arizonans, who tend to be a bit paranoid these days, see on a daily basis all of the crime related to the presence of undocumented aliens -- drug wars, cartels and Mexican gangs, kidnapping, sex slavery, human smuggling, etc. We as a state would like the federal government to do its part and "secure the borders" so that this element is kept out of Arizona.
However, since the feds have failed to act, the state has had to establish an enforcement system which more or less mirrors what the feds are supposed to do. The new law essentially deputizes all sworn Arizona police officers to also act as immigration officers.
This does not mean that they will start rounding up Hispanics -- or systematically checking papers from people that look Mexican. But in the course of their duties if they discover someone that appears to be out of their element (probable cause) officers will be required to inquire about immigration standing. If the suspect cannot substantiate legal status he or she will be turned over to federal immigration officials.
In other words, local police will be doing the very same kinds of things that the Border Patrol officers already do.
Again, I think that this is bad law. We don't really want state agencies in the position of enforcing immigration standards. That should be a federal responsibility. This action by Arizona just further complicates an already complex situation.
Furthermore, this new law makes it harder for local police to do their other duties because 30% of the population will no longer see them as safe people. Hispanics will stop calling 911 to report crimes because they don't want to encounter cops who could ask to see their green cards or birth certificates.
Of course, there is the potential for abuse -- great potential. But that potential already exists. There are already extremist law enforcement agencies and some abusive officers on the streets. This changes nothing in that sense -- other than that all this extra attention might make rogue officers hesitant to further abuse their powers. A silver lining?
The real crime is that this legislation and political circus creates unnecessary anxiety and insecurity for our neighbors -- American citizens and legal immigrants who are also Hispanic. They're worried that they're going to become enforcement targets. They're afraid that they're going to have to unfairly carry documentation that no one else has to provide. They thus become second class citizens -- undermining the very values for which America stands.
I suspect that this law will be tossed out by the courts -- and it should be. But if it is not, those of us who are not Hispanic have to be vigilant on behalf of our neighbors -- to make sure that they are being treated fairly. We need to look out for them as we would look out for our own families.
And those of you who live in other states. It would be helpful if you did something, too. If you think boycotts are the answer -- fine. That might make you feel good about yourselves. (Do first check, though, to make sure that there isn't a log somewhere in your own eye.) But if you really want to do something helpful, encourage your congressional leaders to get moving and to start working on short-term and long-term immigration reform.