By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
There is no easy solution to the problems posed by illegal immigration. First off, there are the economic costs, like the way illegals currently residing in the United States draw benefits from the welfare state while failing to contribute to its upkeep. Some suggest that they be cut off from these benefits–like free public education and hospital emergency care–preparing themselves for howls of outrage, claims of unfairness and significant legal challenges.
There is a perception, illegitimate though it may be, that a conflict exists between the rights of those born in the United States or who are in the country legally and those here illegally–and that stakeholders on each side of the debate have an equally meritorious position. Unfortunately this has produced a political crisis where the safest position is to support the status quo. Never mind that continuing to acquiesce to the presence of illegals makes a mockery of the idea that the United States is a nation of laws that must be respected and, yes, obeyed.
By putting her signature on a bill that addresses the problem directly, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has been propelled as though shot out of a cannon from the depths of obscurity into the middle of the three-ring circus that is the U.S. immigration debate.
Brewer and her Republican colleagues in the Arizona legislature who voted for the bill have been held up to scorn by pro-immigration activists who charge they are creating a police state in the American Southwest. Despite the fact the bill has many commendable parts to it–including its toughening of the penalties for anyone found to have engaged in “the smuggling of human beings,” critics have focused almost entirely on one section of the new law, which reads:
For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person…
To some, that sounds like an open invitation for a Wild West environment in which police officers can stop people at will and ask “to see their papers.” To others, that is a wildly expansive interpretation grounded in a politically-motivated fantasy that ignores established procedures and decades of jurisprudence.
Consider that all along America’s southwestern border criminal activities have spilled over into the United States from Mexico, leading to kidnappings, drive-by shootings and murder. In many places the streets are increasingly less safe for everyone, American-born and immigrant, legal and illegal. Who is prepared to argue that drastic measures are not appropriate to combat this problem, especially since the authorities responsible for the security of the border and the enforcement of immigration laws–the federal government–are unwilling to step up and shoulder the responsibilities they already have?
It is either the inaction or incompetence of the federal government to deal effectively with the very real threats to national and personal security that forced Brewer’s hand. Years of neglect by Democrats and Republicans alike had created a variety of tipping points where illegal immigration intersects with crime, economic development, education, healthcare, and jobs. People, rightly, are demanding action–affirmative, even aggressive action. In a survey released Monday, pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that 60 percent of voters nationwide are in favor of the new Arizona law.
According to Rasmussen, 77 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of self-described independents support the law while Democrats, somewhat surprisingly, are evenly divided on the issue.
It is a credit to the American people’s innate sense of fairness that 58 percent of them, Rasmussen found, are at least somewhat concerned that “efforts to identify and deport illegal immigrants will also end up violating the civil rights of some U.S. citizens,” including 29 percent who said they were “very concerned.”
Nevertheless, what Arizona has done–while easy to portray as extreme or “un-American”–is an understandable reaction to the problems a porous border and a federal government unwilling to address the problems it creates, which affect honest, law-abiding, taxpaying citizens whether they are native born, naturalized or otherwise in the country legally.