Thursday, May 6, 2010

Think Before Protesting

The controversy surrounding the recently passed immigration bill in Arizona is quickly becoming an exercise in protest for no sake other than to protest. The bill, although imperfect, sets out to accomplish a worthy and necessary goal. And in contrast to many criticisms, it has very little downside.

One of the primary aims of the bill is to allow the state of Arizona to enforce federal immigration laws that are not being adequately handled by federal forces. It now makes the federal crime of being in the country illegally a state crime. The law, which has in practice already been implemented in some parts of Arizona, allows local authorities to manage the large numbers of illegal immigrants that are in the state. While, according to Gallup Polls, 51% of those who have heard of the law, support it, its passage has sparked widespread, albeit misguided, controversy.

The major criticism is that the bill opens the doors for racial profiling. Obviously, it would be intolerable to establish a “police state” where the authorities could stop anyone, at any time, to ask for identification. If such a bill was passed (if it even could be passed) it would be a serious breach of individual liberty and a gross power grab by the state.

However, that is not the case in Arizona. The fears, fanned by media sensationalism, of a Nazi-esque state are ill-founded. If one takes a brief peak at the legislation it is plainly obvious that the language precisely prohibits such heinous behavior. The bill states,
A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not solely consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements…
This was further affirmed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, “We must enforce the law evenly, and without regard to skin color, accent or social status.”

It further emphasizes that law enforcement officials are only to act under “reasonable suspicion.” In other words, the police are only able to check for immigration status when some action, other than race, leads them to believe that a person is an illegal immigrant.

The fact of the matter is that despite critics’ attempts to ignore or dismiss this protective language, their inclusion is evidence of an important safeguard against the main fear backing the opposition to the new law. Furthermore, those who choose to dismiss the language fail to realize that this type of protection already, and successfully, exists in regards to a whole slew of current laws. There is, generally, no wanton abuse of police power – and when there is the courts deal with them in an appropriate fashion. As John Lott points out,
Police today already have to deal with the “reasonable suspicion” standard all the time in other areas of law enforcement, and most understand very well how this standard limits what they can do. Police know that they can't pull over drivers for fear that they are smuggling drugs just because they are black.
Being vigilant to prevent abuse of power and arbitrary racial profiling is essential, but that does not negate the underlying correctness of the law. Ultimately, the presence of illegal individuals within the United States cannot be tolerated. It undermines the sovereignty and security of the nation and introduces a whole host of logistical and economic problems.

However, the Arizona bill only goes halfway. As a state bill, it has no power to reform the immigration system, which is badly needed. Strict enforcement of immigration policy – a zero tolerance for illegal presence in the United States – must go hand-in-hand with increased ease for immigrants, whether permanent or temporary, to legally be in the country.

The federal government should seize the opportunity to establish a working immigration system that gives individuals the incentive to utilize legal avenues to sharing the bounty that is America. It is mutually beneficial to have a vast supply of legal immigrants. The nativism and xenophobia that opposes real reform is unfortunate, misguided, and detrimental (and probably smaller than many on the Left believe). It must not be allowed to be a force to hinder real reform; either by the Left to mis-portray the vast majority of the Right, or for the isolated xenophobes on the Right to hijack the agenda.

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