Outlook: Arizona's immigration law

Aug 02, 2010

Roberto Suro will be online Monday, Aug. 2, at Noon ET to discuss his Outlook article titled "In the fight over Arizona's immigration law, everybody loses."

What do you think about keeping the part of the law that says check immigration status and changing the wording so that ALL people stopped by police have to prove that they are U.S. citizens? This seems fair to me.

Well, there are two issues it seems to me: Will it be fair? Will it be effective? As to the first, Judge Bolton, who issued the temporary injuction last week, raised several cautions about putting some citizens and legal residents in difficult positions because they either have not been issued or do have to carry with them proof of legal status. This kind of practice will inevitably generate hassles and complaints.

The more important question is: will it be effective? You care counting on cops, who are being very careful NOT to engage in racial profiling randomly having enough encounters that meet the law's conditions in order to perform checks. I think it could be a very round about, very inefficient way to go about enforcing immigration law. It could use up police resources with little to show.

What is it about the word "illegal" people don't understand? If you are in this country "illegally" it means you should not be here. Period. Other honest people came thru Ellis Island years ago. These Mexicans are here "illegally" and should be deported or leave. Doesn't the word still mean the same thing?

Just a note of clarification on illegal: It is not a crime to be in the United States without authorization. The individual is not subject to civil or criminal penalty. It is NOT like tresspassing. An individually found to be in the country without authorization is subject to removal and dentention only in association with removal e.g. that are considered a flight risk. Taking work without authorization is not a crime either--however using false identity papers to get a job is a violation of federal law.

If you want to change the law, fine, (SB 1070 does not BTW), but as it stands, being in the US without papers and getting a job without using fake papers is not technically " illegal" --you can't be punished for it, you can just be sent home.

Was the 14th Amendment misinterpreted by the government to include children born of illegal immigrants?

Section 1 of the amendment states: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

I don't see much wiggle room in "all persons born" as the definition of a citizen

What is being done to stop this issue at it's source: the cheating employers of illegal immigrants?

This is the perpetual and fundamental problem. Pretty much everybody on all sides of the debate agrees that the most potent enforcement tools would be a reliable worksite verification system: You come in asking for a job. I ask to see an ID card with biometric identifiers, an ID card that you obtained after producing orgiginal, verfied breeder documents, i.e. bith certificates, divorce decrees or anything that might have involved a change of name etc. You then have to do a retinal scan or some other biometric ID check to verify that you are the person you say you are.  If the answer is "yes" then with that card in hand, I, the employer check it against a national data base, by swiping it like a credit card. That data base checks whether you are in fact authorized to work, having culled records from Social Security and immigration and criminal records. If it comes back green, you've got the job. If not, you are out of luck and have 60 days  to go to a federal office to find out why you are being denied employment.  Meanwhile, I'm, free to hire the next applicant.

Now, no US politician, including Arizona's leaders have been wiling to tell the entire US workforce (300 million plus) that it has to subject itself to this process in order to rid itself of some 7 or 8 million illegal workers. Plut it could take five years and a lot of money to get the system in in place.

How does everyone lose?

The people who want more effective enforcement will lose if the AZ law is upheld. Even if it is allowed to move forward as written, it will not produce a significant and rapid decline in the unauthorized population. It's just not efficient. State and local cops already have much else to do. It is not as if all of a sudden a tremendous wave of new manpower will go into the challenge. And besides, simple policy stops--if they obey the rules on racial profiling and 4th ammendment protections--will not be effective on city streets. The unauthorized can easily avoid them.

On the other side, folks looking for a broader more multi-faceted approach to immigration are going see the debate pushed two two topics: the role of local law enforcement and the powers of state governments, which are both distractions in my view.

We have serious work to do on this issue. It is not going to get fixed with traffic stops. That is true whether you want to see them all rounded up and sent home or whether you want to make them all citizens. The Arizona law does not offer any serious policy options.

Do you think the legislators who pushed the immigration law knew that it wouldn't survive a court challenge, but did it anyway to pander to anti-Hispanic sentiment? If Arizona is seen as unfriendly to Hispanics, then the supporters generally got what they wanted. This nativism seems little different from the type one saw in Northern cities a century ago during the Irish and Italian immigration, or even 250 years ago during the German immigration. Also, I think focusing enforcement and prosecution on the illegals themselves it not only punitive but misguided. Would you favor this focus being placed instead on the employers who hire illegals, who after all are coming here for jobs. And would you favor lifting the yearly quotas for legal immigration and make the process of pursuing citizenship less arduous and less expensive?

We know for a fact that the AZ law was written with the help of experts who have been involved in several court challenges with the federal government and who openly say they have been looking for a vehicle for a successful challenge.

So, this law was clearly written with the intent of getting into court.

As to the nature of nativism, fascinating but too complicated a point for this venue. Suffice to say some themes--fear of a criminal element, competition over jobs--repeat themselves, but each era needs to be judged on its own terms.

And, on employers, yes, the worksite needs to the focus of enforcement. I talked about the mechanisms, which aren't simple, in a response to an earlier question.

But, overall I don't think you can fix illegal immigration system without first building a legel system that is flexible about meeting the needs of the labor force, and that includes flows of investors and inventors as well as workers, a system that envisions different kinds of migrants some who come just for a while and go home, some who go back and forth and some who make the US their home, and a system that includes efforts to remove the incentives to illegal migration in big sending communities in Mexico and elsewhere. You get all that working, and illegal migration ought to be reduced to a nuisance.

Do we need immigration indefinitely? Aren't there enough people in this country, and our poor population keeps increasing, why have more immigration then?

It is hard to see now that we are deep into a downturn, but in the long term natural population increase will not provide growth, even most growth in the labor force. That is basically because since the end of the baby boom, whites especially but also Afro-Americans, have been having many fewer children. Economists debate how much population growth and with what characteristics is ideal, but everyone pretty much agrees you have to have some folks coming from abroad to keep the economic engine humming. And, in fact the economic boom of the  the late 1990s was accompanied by historically high immigration flows and historically low unemployment.

So, one of  the question facing us now is how we manage immigration to find different forms of comparative advantage with China?

Immigration as an economic input is not an easy thing to manage. Neither is money supply or currency fluctuations. What I argue is that we have to acknowledge that the challenges are in these realms, and recognize that arguments over traffic stops aren't getting us anywhere.


well that's all for me, many thanks to everyone who has participated.

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Roberto Suro
Roberto Suro is a professor at the USC/Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
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