Border-ing on the Surreal…

illegal1

Here in Arizona, we have become the center of a political tornado over the past couple of weeks, thanks to the passing of SB 1070. This law says that when police come into contact with people, they must make “a reasonable attempt…to determine the immigration status of the person,” where “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.” Fairly innocuous, really. Not that you could tell by the reactions of some, who have reacted to the bill with hysterical exaggeration, bordering on the offensive.

marguliesazFor instance, the cartoon to the right, which drew a sharp rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League. “We are seeing these offensive and inappropriate Nazi and Holocaust comparisons come to the fore in the public debate once again… There is no comparison between the situation facing immigrants, legal or illegal, in Arizona and what happened in the Holocaust.” Not that this stopped Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane from shrieking much the same idiotic nonsense, telling Reuters Television:

“Nobody but the Nazis ever asked anybody for their papers. Walking down the street, a cop can come up to you and say ‘May I see your papers?’ — I think they should be required to ask that question in German if the law sticks around… That’s more shocking and egregious than anything we’ve ever done on the show.”

Insert picture of a quizzical owl here. O RLY? Apparently, as well as McFarlane’s woeful ignorance of history, it seems he has never flown, rented a car or even bought a beer, because all of those would require as much, if not more, showing of ze paperz than the new law, which explicitly says that an Arizona driving license is all that anyone needs to show. As for his last statement, I was watching an episode of Family Guy this week with this exchange:
Lois Griffin: “Peter, you got me a card, ‘I’m sorry for selling our daughter.'”
Peter Griffin: “Do you know how hard it was to find one of those in English?”
Hard to believe the man concerned is sensitive about “racial profiling.”

illegal2That seems to be the main thrust of opposition; that the bill would open the door to police stopping someone based on the colour of their skin. However, the bill explicitly prohibits this, saying officers “may not consider race, color or national origin”. Now, admittedly, as originally written, was certainly badly-constructed: it could have required police to question, for example, a rape victim about her immigration status. Frankly, I’m a bit disturbed it made its way through the legislature without these obvious holes being spotted. But they were quickly addressed when pointed out.

Yet, the misinformation goes on, to a degree that simple ignorance no longer seems plausible – this feels more likely deliberate deceit, to stir up misplaced anger. Witness the Huffington Post saying, “Arizona has a new immigration law that requires police officers to detain anyone who “looks like” an illegal immigrant and fails to produce proof of American citizenship.” That’s factually wrong on just about every level – beyond “Arizona has a new immigration law” – and gives some sad idea of the tone of the debate. Proponents of the bill are all racists; opponents all illegal-lovers. Even the US Attorney General, who had been sharply-critical, admitted, “I have not read it.”

But is the new law necessary? It’s the product of long years of growing frustration in Arizona over the federal government’s failure to act regarding the problem of illegal immigration. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have done anything to fix it over the past 20 years: one in bed with big-business, who enjoy the flow of cheap, non-unionized labour into the country, the other with no desire to alienate a fast-growing ethnic group who has traditionally been rock-solid support for them. Self-interest rules the day, regardless of the cost to the country.

Certainly, about the only thing all sides agree on is that immigration reform is desperately needed. However, it seems pointless to start passing any new laws, when we are completely incapable of enforcing the existing ones. And that, basically, is what SB 1070 is trying to do. Very little of what is included, is not already part of federal law: however, what it does, is require state law officers to get involved in immigration enforcement, when typically, they have largely turned a blind eye to it. It’s important, because at this point, immigration is something where almost all the work is done at or near the points of entry.

While there’s a lot of talk about “securing the borders,” almost half of all illegals entered the country by legal means – they just don’t go home after their visa ran out, for instance. The odds of them then being caught, due to the current lax approach to the law, is very slim. Once you reach a major city, you’re more or less home free. That’s the reality of the current policy, and any “reform” must certainly address what is otherwise a major flaw. I’m all for a better process to emigrate to the US – god knows, it took us far too much time, money and effort to get me a Green Card – but those who bypassed the law and waltzed across from Nogales on a tourist visa, never to return, can not be allowed to jump the queue. Basic principles of fairness should prohibit that.

Polls have consistently shown a majority of Americans, not just those in Arizona, support the new law, and it has been eagerly seized upon by Republicans as a potential tool against the Democrats. There will be legal challenges, and possibly also a ballot measure to overturn it, and that’s how it should be in a democracy. But I think, in the end, the law will stand, albeit perhaps in an amended form: some people may not like it at all, but it seems to me to be a well-founded piece of legislation, stemming from a genuine societal need. At the very least, even if it falls, it will have focused the federal administration on a topic which they have basically abandoned for too long, and if it leads them to take appropriate action, the bill will have served its purpose.