Immigration reform can’t wait. If there was any doubt of that it should have been erased with the enactment of Arizona’s misguided attempt to handle the matter at the state level with a new law that endorses racial profiling.
The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act, signed Friday by Gov. Jan Brewer, gives police in Arizona authority to question anyone if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that he is an illegal immigrant. But what makes a person reasonably suspicious? Speaking Spanish? A brown skin? Holding a job landscaping lawns? Ordering from the drive-through window at a Taco Bell? The person who looks the least like an illegal immigrant might actually be one.
The new law goes beyond its ridiculous profiling, though, and prohibits churches or other agencies from adopting so-called sanctuary polices that deny police the ability to question clients about their immigration status. If this reminds you of how the gestapo was enabled to catch hiding Jews, it would be understandable. America has a problem with illegal immigrants. But this is not the way to deal with it. A federal answer is needed before other states follow Arizona’s poor lead.
The border state acted in frustration with the lack of federal leadership. But with 12 million illegal immigrants in this country, a round-them-up-and-send-them-back approach won’t work. The cost alone is prohibitive. And many who came here illegally are living upstanding lives. People who are working hard, raising families, staying out of trouble, and paying taxes — on their purchases, if nothing else — deserve the opportunity to make amends for their crime and be placed on a path toward legal residency and eventual citizenship.
Yes, America’s borders must be made more secure, especially in this era of global terrorism. But care must be taken in that area, too. In fact, there is some evidence that stricter border enforcement helped swell the population of illegal immigrants. A new Louisiana State University study points out that before the U.S./Mexican border was militarized, migrant workers would routinely leave this country after filling a job temporarily to earn money to take back home. Now, it’s too dangerous to go back and forth, so they stay here.
The LSU study further correlates the increase in Latino immigrants staying in this country and taking low-skill labor jobs with an increase in violence among unemployed African Americans. “Few will address these issues because they’re politically explosive,” said sociology professor Edward Shihadeh, one of the study’s authors. A bigger explosion will occur if Congress further delays action on an immigration reform bill. Better regulation of the financial industry is before it now. But there is a push to move immigration ahead of climate-change on the agenda. That makes sense, given what’s happening in Arizona.