SB1070 Watch | Bust narco-traffickers, not maids
Arizona, where I live, has become ground zero in one of the most divisive issues of our day: immigration. There are two reasons for this unfortunate distinction.
On the surface, the element that gave the issue traction here was passage of SB1070. The new law, which is due to go into effect on Thursday, would compel law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of individuals who they “reasonably suspect” of being in the U.S. illegally.
The second, and deeper, reason for Arizona’s role is political. Support for SB1070 has become a litmus test for conservatives and particularly for the far-right. The law has galvanized the small but active white supremacist movements here, who have donated money to Governor Jan Brewer’s fund to fight legal challenges to the law, and begun armed patrols near the border with Mexico. The political pressure to embrace SB1070 has become so intense that Barry Wong, a Republican running for re-election to the state commission that regulates utilities, promises to go even further and prevent utilities from selling electricity to undocumented aliens.
With bizarre anti-immigrant proposals like Wong’s now part of mainstream discourse in Arizona, Francis Fukuyama’s thoughtful piece in today’s Wall Street Journal is a much-needed antidote to the toxic politics of the day.
Fukuyama’s argument is that we must have a more nuanced understanding of the issues if we want to solve the real problem of illegal immigration: crime.
Yes, people crossing the border into the U.S. are, by definition, committing a crime. That is vastly different, however, from the notion that once here, they live the lives of criminals. Most immigrants, documented and undocumented, come here to work and to give their children a chance at a better life.
“The gardeners and maids and busboys,” Fukuyama writes, “are indeed breaking the law. But they are in a very different category from the tattooed Salvatrucha gang member who lives by extortion and drug-dealing.”
The broad-brush approach demagogued by Brewer, Wong and Senator John McCain, has nothing to do with reducing crime and border violence and everything to do with stirring up fears to get votes. It is a sad fact that politics, not logic, funnels resources. The pro-SB1070 crowd will take money that could be used to fight narco-traffickers and direct it to identifying, incarcerating and deporting people who, at worst, are guilty of over-pruning, inadequate vacuuming and failure to clear a table with all deliberate speed.
The people of Arizona would be better served by politicians who actually want to fight violent crime, than by demagogues who will settle for the farce of hunting down “illegals” and declaring “Mission Accomplished.”
The problem of gangs and drug violence should not be confounded with the behavior of the vast majority of illegal immigrants to the U.S., who by and large are seeking the same thing that every immigrant to America has wanted since the time of the Mayflower: to better their condition and that of their families. They are not criminals in the sense of people who make a living by breaking the law. They would be happy to live legally, but they come from societies in which legal rules were never quite extended to them. They are therefore better described as “informal” rather than “illegal.”