Recently, Arizona’s republican governor Jane Brewer signed into law a new immigration bill in Arizona which will give the police more authority to question suspected illegal immigrants, and even legal immigrants concerning their immigration status. Police, according to various summaries of the bill, will be able to question a person about their immigration status and then presumably arrest and deport them if they can’t prove their citizenship. Usually, immigration status was only scrutinized if the person being questioned was also suspected of another crime.
This is worrisome to civil rights groups as race can be used, in addition to other factors, to profile people suspected of being illegal immigrants. A hispanic looking person, including those who are United States citizens, could under certain circumstances be question by police concerning their residency status. Obviously, this is concerning as it could become an open door for police to, either intentionally or not, harass latino americans.
The bill also includes new legislation to crack down on the businesses who hire illegal immigrants, in addition to penalties for people who knowingly transport illegal immigrants. (Would this include public bus drivers as well?) But how practical is the enforcement of this law, regardless of your personal feelings?
I would say it isn’t very enforceable or practical. Here in Tucson Arizona, where I live, our city has a reputation for being a city friendly to hispanics, more so than Phoenix Arizona. Tucson is the only arizonan city in the Top Ten List for Hispanic Friendly cities in Hispanic magazine (Phoenix only got honorable mention). There are plenty of license plates on cars from various places in Mexico, such as Sonora Mexico, and mexican culture has been here for a long time. Before Arizona was added to the Union it was part of Mexico, so it seems natural to see a significant hispanic cultural presence in the city as it has always been here. While Tucson, which is located in Pima county, and can be considered to be much more democratic than Phoenix Arizona, has always been a progressive place, I wonder if Tucson will lose some of its reputation as being hispanic friendly over the next year or so, and what that will mean for the city.
Because there are so many mexican tourists, day laborers, and Mexican Americans in Tucson, the police under the new law could legitimately question about a third of the city’s population concerning their immigration status. (Maybe even more as there are plenty of “white” looking illegal immigrants from Mexico and other countries). This would be bound to upset legal immigrants and latinos who live in Tucson. But would it really help the law enforcement side of the problem?
A vast sum of drugs flow across Arizona’s border with Mexico, in addition to illegal immigrants. But because this activity is illegal it doesn’t really impact the daily lives of Arizonans in a major way as it is illegal activity and hence tries to fly under the radar. While many illegal drugs flow through the Mexico-Arizona border, I would guess that the drugs and their traffickers don’t stay around long. Would hermetically sealing Arizona’s southern border from drug traffic help in the drug war? This is a complex question, and it might indeed help, but the drug war should be separated from the situation facing illegal immigrants, legal immigrants and latino citizens. After all, drug cartels have resorted to using submarines and other ways to get drugs into the country, the immigration bill doesn’t directly address that. Having a well police and protected national border with Mexico doesn’t mean that Arizona should turn into a police state on the other side.
There have been recent cases involving violence against borderland ranchers in Arizona, and there is a feeling that southern Arizona has experienced increased levels of crime due to its proximity to the border. However, the vast majority of legal immigrants, and even illegal immigrants are law abiding people who are just in search of work. Maybe due to the current economic climate politicians are cracking down on immigration out of fear that illegal immigrants will take jobs away from Americans as well as use social services without paying taxes. America has always attracted immigrants since its inception, and there are hundreds of millions of people worldwide who would like to live in the United States and plan to do so. If there was an open immigration policy then obviously a humanitarian disaster could occur resulting from perhaps the arrival of tens of millions of immigrants in the U.S. each month. So just as a matter of practicality the United States needs to defend and protect its borders as other countries due.
However, I don’t believe that the police should become de facto border patrol agents and begin searching for and arresting illegal immigrants. This just causes needless harassment of latinos and changes the character of cities like Tucson in bad ways. I was quite frankly surprised that this immigration bill was passed and signed into law by Governor Brewer, this immigration bill seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. I guess that is what happens when you have both a republican state legislature and a republican governor.
However, Mexico is a close neighbor to the United States and the two countries share growing economic and cultural ties. In half a century a greater percentage of the U.S. population is expected to be latino, so the change occurring in Arizona will also occur across the United States in the coming decades. It would better to set a precedent for the peaceful assimilation of latinos into American culture, rather than try to discourage illegal immigration through harsh tactics.
While illegal immigrants may be dissuaded from settling in Arizona, that doesn’t mean that they won’t just settle in other areas of the country that are more hospitable. And harassment of latino american citizens will mean that Arizona will lose a reputation for friendliness and inclusion which has shaped the state over the last almost one hundred years. When Arizona celebrates it first centennial in 2012 (statehood was granted in 1912) there will be much to celebrate. However, some of the first Arizonans, were Mexicans living in Arizona and were granted U.S. citizenship when it became a state. These early Mexican Americans would be surprised to see that the state has become much more unfriendly to immigrants from south of the border.