Tuesday, April 27, 2010
There is much controversy over the new Arizona state law that makes it a state crime to be in the state illegally under federal immigration laws. This is one of those cases in which one of my knees jerks one way and the other knee the other. It is symbolic of a free society that the people there (legally anyway) do not have to carry papers around with them and prove to the police their lawful status. Not for nothing is the demand for "Your papers!" (in German or French or Russian) redolent of the worst abuses of European style police states. I don't blame people for being alarmed at this law.
But on the other hand, it does seem that things in Arizona have gotten completely out of hand, for the simple reason that the federal government is not maintaining anything like a secure border with Mexico. I live just a ways, maybe 15 miles or so north of the border. I try to follow the news about what is going on in northern Mexico, and now, it is all about the drug war. In the course of this war so far 22 thousand people have been killed. Assassinations of police and anybody else, including family members, are routine. And it's not just criminals killing each other. A boy who had been at my son's high school, from a wealthy Mexican family, was murdered when he attempted to flee from kidnappers. Children are kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery. If you think, oh, all this stuff about Mexico spinning toward anarchy is exaggerated, you're wrong. It is a society that is in a very bad way. Worries that Mexico may become a failed state do not seem misplaced to me. Evidently now some of this criminal culture is seeping into Arizona, and drug and human trafficking organizations are establishing themselves there. Arizonans apparently perceive the situation as out of control, and how could they not.
Where I live, the U.S. Border Patrol is very much in evidence. It is routine to see their green and white patrol cars and jeeps driving around or parked in strategic locations, on the lookout for vans full of illegals. You often see them making arrests at the side of the road. You get the impression that they are on it, and you feel secure. When the border fence was being constructed, however, there was a time when through my part of the East County was the quickest way into the US. For a while, things seemed out of control. You could see strings of illegal migrants walking through the mountains behind my house, sometimes being chased by helicopters. It was a bad feeling, one I suspect many Arizonans have now.
I gather that illegal immigrants are responsible for a wave of violent and property crime in Arizona. I would like to see some real numbers on this, but I certainly don't find it hard to believe. If this is the case, it seems to me the state has a responsibility to do everything it legally can to stop this crime and protect its citizens. I don't doubt that if Eugene Robinson or any of the others screaming about the Arizona bill lived in the path of this problematic migration, their views would be a lot more nuanced. I bet they live in really nice neighborhoods where they don't need to worry about being burglarized. Of course the police can't be going around demanding proof of legal status from every Hispanic person they see. But fear of offending people is no justification for failure to provide basic security for citizens against foreign invasion, not by an army in this case, but by people too many of whom are ready to inflict serious harm on others. I have the impression critics of this law have not gotten their heads around what a breakdown in law and order amounts to and how grave this situation is. On the other hand, there are plenty of civil libertarians who see content to hand over African-American neighborhoods to drug traffickers in the interests of protecting the rights of criminals, so maybe that's not it. It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway, that I am talking here about illegal immigrants who come into the US and commit crimes. I am not talking about people who are here legally to work, or even about the middle category of people who are here illegally but make a net contribution to society by working and paying taxes. This last category presents are really problem for immigration policy and for places like Arizona. Somehow the criminals have to be sorted out from the productive members of society and something reasonable and humane figured out for the latter group, and what this would be, I don't know. But the difficulty of figuring this out should not mean letting Arizona revert to a lawless frontier while we ponder and argue.
It does strike me as nuts that with the billions we are spending propping up GM and promoting democracy in Iraq, not to mention all the money we are just wasting, we can't put enough boots on the ground and choppers in the air to make the southwest of this country, which is part of, you know, the union, secure. Maybe this law that Arizona has passed will serve as a wake up call to the feds. Or maybe Arizona will serve as an experiment in the laboratory of federalism about how states can provide basic functions when the federal government is unable or unwilling or perhaps in the future too broke to do so.