Monday, April 26, 2010

Immigration Reform and the Law of Unintended Consequences

So it appears that California's neighbor to the east, Arizona, has passed a ridiculously restrictive immigration law that requires all law enforcement officials in Arizona to enforce immigration laws, and allows law enforcement officials to pick up anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant.  The person would, I guess, have to prove their immigration status by showing their birth certificate on the spot. As you imagine, I have a few thoughts about this.

First, let me say that if I was planning a trip to Arizona, I'm not now.  Due to my Italian heritage, I am blessed with dark (though graying) hair and a decent tan.  So, I may not look Latino, but its close enough that I'm sure as hell not going to take any chances.  Given that the police officer need only have a "reasonable suspicion," (the legal equivalent of "hey, that guy is buying a taco, he must be Mexican"), pretty much everyone is at risk of being arrested for not being able to prove their citizenship on the spot.

Second, while Courts are unpredictable, there's no way in hell this law survives a lawsuit.  For one, foreign relations, which includes immigration, is solely an area of federal jurisdiction and the Constitution is very clear on this.  (Article 1, sections 8 and 10).  That's why every anti-immigrant legislation passed in the last 30 years has been overturned.  

If that wasn't enough, states are prohibited from passing laws that discriminate based on race or nation origin, unless the law is narrowly tailored to avoid racial discriminatory affects as much as possible (see the 14th Amendment).  Given that Arizona sits on the Mexican-American border, its safe to say that when Arizonans complain of undocumented immigrants, they're not complaining about Canadians.  A review of the legislative record will undoubtedly have some legislator complaining about the Mexicans. 

Lastly, and perhaps more interesting to me, is that this immigration law was passed largely because over the past 20 years, the Feds have been enforcing immigration laws to a greater degree.  Arizona, like San Diego, sits on the border, and for time, Mexican workers would cross the border to work in the U.S., but then cross back to live in Mexico.  It was the best of both worlds - American paycheck, Mexican cost of living.  When we made it more difficult to cross the border, Mexican workers had to choose between Mexico and the U.S., and they chose the higher paying jobs up North.  That's why San Diego and Arizona have seen increases in their Hispanic and Latino populations, and that increase in population inflames the populace, leading to more and more anti-immigration laws.  The irony is stunning and tragic.


  1. While I think your doom and gloom scenarios are silly...I would equate them with the people defending this law blaming all violent crime in Arizona on the "evil Mexicans"...this law is stupid. I don't know how any conservative worth his salt could get behind this usurping of the Federal powers so clearly defined in the constitution (a point you made well).

    Are we too weak in defending our immigration laws yes? But is reform needed, absolutely! Let's increase the professional visas we give out. Let's look for creative ways to encourage people who should be in this country...the ones that can benefit the most from the freedoms we have to offer and the ones who can develop this country in a more dramatic get here legally.

    I think we found another area we can agree...even if I think your fearmongering is a bit over the top!

  2. I could seriously see a police officer arresting someone for being an asshole on the basis that they didn't have papers to prove their immigration status.

  3. People get arrested for things that normally would have been a warning or a ticket for being a jerk. That is nothing new.

  4. By the might like the video I posted over at my blog yesterday.

  5. Very nice. . .your blog looks just like mine!