Michael Stopa

Why the Arizona immigration law makes sense here, too

By Michael Stopa
June 15, 2010

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ARIZONA’S TOUGH new anti-illegal immigration law has not gone into effect yet, but it has spawned a wave of similar bills in other states and moved legislators across the country toward a more conservative position on the issue. Even many opponents are waking up to the possibility that sending 12 million illegal immigrants home is possible and that if the federal government won’t do it, the states will.

The economic cost of illegal immigration is taking its toll, especially in Arizona. According to a recent study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, Arizonans paid $2.7 billion in 2009 to support illegal immigrants. This figure does not include costs associated with an increase in violent crime and a flood of drugs in the state.

Critics argue that the new law is unconstitutional and immoral because it requires racial profiling for its implementation. Despite the fact that racial profiling is explicitly prohibited by the law, the argument goes that police, already engaged with criminal suspects, can have no “reasonable suspicion’’ that a person is an illegal immigrant without relying on racial cues.

But reasonable suspicion is well-established in the law and there are certainly examples where reasonable suspicion can occur without origin in racial characteristics. These include: not having a driver’s license or having a forged one, being unable to understand English, or to take an extreme case, riding in the cargo bay of a truck with a dozen men. Therefore, even though challenges to the law might well reveal that racial profiling was employed in specific cases, the law will not necessitate racial profiling.

If a weakness exists in the immigration law it is not in its intent or its methods but rather in its likely efficacy; particularly in the face of inevitable court challenges. The objective of a legal challenge will not likely be to ensure that the law respects racial integrity but rather to ensure that the law is not implemented at all. Thus critics, when asked how they would enforce current immigration laws, typically avoid the question and jump to the need for comprehensive immigration reform and some form of amnesty.

But polls generally show that Americans predominantly oppose amnesty, seeing it as a reward for criminal behavior. While some pundits take a pure open-borders position, most lawmakers who favor a path to citizenship base their argument on the claim that repatriating 12 million people is practically impossible.

This is, however, incorrect. The status quo is fundamentally unstable and sufficient political will can tip the balance so that most illegal immigrants return to their countries.

From a purely technical point of view, an identification of 12 million individuals and an enforced suspension of their ability to earn money are clearly possible and would require only a president who is willing to enforce such a law. A far more humane course, however, would be to enact legislation that charts a course back to general observance of immigration rules. Such legislation might simultaneously target employers and illegal immigrants; offering employers freedom from prosecution and illegal immigrants temporary work permits to motivate identification and to ease the transition back to the home countries.Such legislation will not happen in the Obama administration, which seems to be taking a course — ostentatious yet minimal enforcement followed by “comprehensive reform’’ — that is hauntingly familiar. But neither will amnesty occur. Righteous citizens, as angry at supposedly upstanding businessmen (i.e. the employers) and their own leaders, both Democrat and Republican, as they are at the illegal immigrants, thwarted efforts by George W. Bush to provide a path to citizenship and they will surely do the same for Barack Obama. So for now the stalemate continues.

Michael Stopa is a nanotechnologist at Harvard University. A resident of Holliston, he is a Republican candidate for US Congress.

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