The Arizona Immigration Law

Generally speaking, it is not my practice to comment on the laws or politics in states other than the one in which I live and in which I have lived all of my adult life (Illinois) or the state in which I spent my childhood, in which my family has lived for five generations or more, and in which my mother lived until her death (Missouri). I don’t feel that I know enough about the conditions in other states, the history, law, and politics, to comment reasonably. And I feel that people in other states are free to do any tomfool thing they care to within the constraints of the federal constitution.

However, the furor over Arizona’s recent law on illegal immigration has become sufficiently national that I thought I ought to comment on it. To the best of my ability to determine the text of the law is here. From my semi-casual reading it would be better described as an immigration enforcement law than as an immigration law.

The bulk of the text is devoted to two subjects: preventing Arizona jurisdictions from becoming sanctuaries for illegal immigrants and laws making it more difficult for employers to hire illegals. The context of the former section appears to be that both Tucson and Phoenix have enacted ordinances which prohibit police officers from inquiring into the immigration status of those they apprehend. The state law would strike down those ordinances and enable any legal resident of the state to seek action from the courts against jurisdictions that attempted to implement sanctuary laws.

The employer enforcement provision includes an attempt to prohibit the commonplace practice of driving to places where illegal immigrants congregate to seek work, e.g. street corners or mall parking lots, and picking up workers for day labor. The remainder puts the burden of proof on employers to establish that they have exercised due diligence in determining the immigration status of employees.

Requiring foreigners in the United States to produce their documentation has drawn quite a bit of criticism and mockery, inviting comparisons to the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Those raising that objection don’t seem to take into account that federal law already requires foreigners in the United States to keep their passports or visas on their persons at all times. In other words it has been the law for some time. To will the end you must will the means and some level of enforcement is a reasonable method of enforcing the law.

The main objection to the Arizona law to my eye appears to be to this clause:

E. A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER, WITHOUT A WARRANT, MAY ARREST A PERSON IF THE OFFICER HAS PROBABLE CAUSE TO BELIEVE THAT THE PERSON HAS COMMITTED ANY PUBLIC OFFENSE THAT MAKES THE PERSON REMOVABLE FROM THE UNITED STATES.

with the main complaint being that the provision may be subject to abuse with legal residents and citizens being harrassed by law enforcement officers. That a law might be abused is a pretty high standard as the sole reason for opposing it; I doubt that any law can live up to that standard. Many of those raising that objection had no problems with, for example, the healthcare reform law or the ARRA, both of which raise possibilities of abuse.

My knowledge of conditions in Arizona is insufficient to determine whether police officers there are likely to abuse the provision or whether the problems in Arizona are sufficient that they outweigh the harm done by the possibility of abuse.

I haven’t mentioned my views on immigration in a while so I’ll summarize them here. I don’t think we have a problem with illegal immigration writ large in this country. I think we have a problem with illegal immigration from Mexico, hardly a surprise since we share a 1,500 mile land border with a country with a per capita income a quarter of what it is here. We are unique among developed countries in that regard and comparing our situation to that of the United Kingdom, France, or Germany is specious.

I don’t think we are likely to have a longterm problem with illegal immigration from Mexico for demographic reasons cf. this graph.

I think we need a number of immigration reforms. I think we ought to increase the number of work visas available to Mexicans by an order of magnitude and implement substantial substantial border and workplace enforcement, not dissimilar to the provisions in the Arizona law in the case of the latter. I also think that we ought to have policy of reciprocation with Mexico. How can Mexican citizens in the United States who support their country’s approach to U. S. citizens in Mexico object?

I also think that immigration policy in the United States should be tailored more closely to our actual needs. We don’t have a crying need for larger numbers of unskilled workers in the United States. If you think that we do, you really should study up on the meaning of the words “market clearing price for labor”. With an unlimited supply of unskilled workers employers will tailor jobs for workers of that type and I think that has undesireable consequences for the country and particularly for state and local governments. I think that state and local governments should be able to sue the federal government for the cost of providing federally-mandated services to illegal immigrants and their children.

Immigration policy isn’t a fault line in U. S. politics. Views cut across the political parties, largely separating the elites who apparently want open borders without a concommitant willingness to pay the costs of open borders from ordinary people, the greater number of whom would like to see less immigration, generally, and less illegal immigration in particular.

9 comments… add one
  • Maxwell James

    From my semi-casual reading it would be better described as an immigration enforcement law than as an immigration law.

    As a former Tucsonan that’s my understanding as well. I’m against the new law – I think any attempts at increasing enforcement without also implementing meaningful reforms is going to lead to an unacceptable level of social upheaval. That said, I can’t really blame the state for doing this – they’re just stepping in because the Feds have been so negligent on the matter for so long.

  • PD Shaw

    I agree with the thrust of this post, though immigration is obviously a national issue, so a Midwesterner’s opinion on this can’t be disregarded. I support a national i.d. card, which I suspect many of the people opposing the Arizona law, would also consider some sort of fascist device.

    My mother-in-law’s family were early settlers in Arizona and like many, their extended family is a mixture of gringo and hispanic, and from past experience their views do not conform to ethnic stereotyping. It will be interesting if I hear any more. But I would add that from my past visits, I believe the parking lots where you can find illegal immigrants are not necessarily a state secret.

  • Hi Dave,
    I hope all’s well.

    This is not an ‘immigration’ issue. Immigrants are legal migrants with permission to enter the country and settle.

    The people in question are illegal aliens, and it is just as important to call things by their right name as it is not to demonize people who are mostly trying to find a better life for themselves.
    The real issues are how to enforce our borders, find out who’s here and decide who stays and who goes.

    I especially reject the ‘path to citizenship’ meme, because it is manifestly unfair to reward people for essentially jumping the line ahead of thousands of people who have obeyed the law or simply married a foreign national and are trying deal with the outrageous obstacles ICE puts in their way just to get them into the country.

    If this were my problem to solve, here’s how I’d do it

    Regards,
    Rob

  • Maxwell James

    Rereading your post this morning, I think you are fundamentally wrong about this:

    with the main complaint being that the provision may be subject to abuse with legal residents and citizens being harrassed by law enforcement officers. That a law might be abused is a pretty high standard as the sole reason for opposing it; I doubt that any law can live up to that standard. Many of those raising that objection had no problems with, for example, the healthcare reform law or the ARRA, both of which raise possibilities of abuse.

    There is a substantial difference between a law enabling abuse by private citizens (such as the ACA) and a law enabling abuse by government officials – especially police officers, who already have considerably more leeway than others to infringe upon individual rights. And a major externality of this law is that private citizens who may “resemble” an illegal immigrant – i.e., Mexican-Americans – will also be vulnerable to harassment due to the law.

    I still agree with most of the rest of your post.

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