Kaszycki: Arizona immigration law un-American, authoritarian

By Steve Kaszycki

The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer… The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and designed to “identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants,” has been defended as a valuable tool for law enforcement of a border state.

The law is, in fact, an irresponsible and improper use of governmental power that people of all political affiliations ought to oppose.

Despite the fact that the primary justification for the Arizona bill was the supposedly extreme condition facing the border state, State Reps. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Cranberry) and Harry Readshaw (D-Allegheny) have decided to push for a similar bill in Pennsylvania. Without that pallid justification, the only thing we’re left with is the same old “we don’t like immigrants” rhetoric.

Among its provisions, the Arizona law requires immigrants to carry their immigration papers at all times and mandates that police officers question anyone who is suspected of being an illegal immigrant. Additionally, the law targets those who knowingly employ illegal immigrants.

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

The law would invariably result in the targeting of Hispanics, both immigrants and natural born citizens, as the notion of someone being “suspected” of being an illegal immigrant is a natural invitation for the type of pre-emptive racial profiling that is distinctly un-American.

Demanding to see peoples’ papers, assuming illegality on the basis of ethnicity and endorsing night raids aimed at ethnic neighborhoods is not American. What it does bring to mind need not be said.

Moreover, the law does not solve the real problem around the border — gangs.

Instead, it diverts attention and capital away from legitimate and reasonable efforts to disrupt violent groups engaged in drug smuggling and other illicit activities, concentrating them instead on disrupting the lives of migrant workers.

For example, immigration enforcement would become a top priority for law enforcement officials over other crimes, because agencies risk being sued for not complying with the immigration law, according to The Arizona Republic, a newspsaper based in Phoenix, Az. The law enforcement and border control are finite resources and should be optimized by concentrating them in areas that are truly important.

Anti-immigrant movements have always existed in response to significant migrations in America and elsewhere. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 effectively froze Chinese immigration for decades after Chinese immigrants were blamed for white unemployment etc. This was one example of the government responding to racist and nativist sentiments with embarrassing, reactionary legislation that interfered with the market and conferred a de-jure otherness to a subset of people.

Arizona would be wiser to concentrate on disrupting border gangs rather than the lives of hard-working labor migrants.

Beyond its broadly misguided goals of interfering in natural migratory flows, the law is specifically and seriously flawed. The merits of requiring individuals to carry immigration documents is dubious at best, as many politicians recognized. While other countries, such as France, have laws that permit such police maneuvers, the United States’ Bill of Rights was established as a means of protecting residents from an invasive government. Conservatives objected to the notion of the government demanding under threat of legal punishment that they purchase a product (health care). It is only consistent to oppose the notion of government being able to demand people’s residency papers.

The liberals’ opposition to the law is natural. common-sense, traditional liberal rhetoric concerning laws often revolves around the notion of fairness or empathy, as President Obama illustrated when discussing the criteria for his selection of a Supreme Court justice.

But conservatives should also oppose the bill on principle. While a popular conservative frame is “law and order,” conservatives ought to realize that this only should extend to laws which are sensible — the existence of a law is not an ipso-facto justification of its implementation. We have many laws which are not sensible and rarely enforced — for instance, laws against unlicensed cab drivers.

Some conservatives believe that enforcement of immigration laws are justified, but they do not realize that the very presence of illegal immigrants in the labor force is an illustration that the government has interfered in the labor market to the extent that it requires circumventing the legal process. Without the illegal workforce, the labor market would shrink up to 3 to 4 percent and the economy would diminish in turn.

Conservatives who champion free markets and extol Ronald Reagan’s famous quip that government is the problem and not the solution should reject the notion that the government should play an active part in contorting the labor market to favor people who happen to have been born here. This is not the government’s role. Conservatives should realize that the proposition of having a government that concerns itself with dictating the culture and the ethnic makeup of the country runs counter to the longstanding tradition — though not always reality — of America as a country welcoming of immigrants.

E-mail Steve at [email protected]