Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why the Arizona Immigration Law Sucks

Arizona just passed its famous anti-illegal immigrant law, and while the law has been criticized for being a vicious, racist law that turns all cops into the immigration police, at least it solves the problem of illegal immigration in Arizona once and for all.

Ha ha! That's a joke, although not a funny one, because while the new law requires illegal aliens who break any laws to be deported and imposes harsher penalties on businesses who hire immigrants, nothing in the law is going to magically remove the visa-less Mexicans from within Arizona's borders. It's going to make illegals even more afraid of the police and other government agencies, it's going to make some legal immigrants nervous if they leave their house without identification, but mostly the law got passed so the politicians who passed it could get reelected.

Arizona is probably the most conservative state in the US, which makes it one of the most right-wing places in the western world. Republicans have dominated both houses of the legislature for decades, and the state has produced politicians like Barry Goldwater, Evan Meacham (the governor who did away with Martin Luther King Day and was later impeached), and Sherriff Joe, who is so stereotypically cruel to the inmates he oversees it seems like he stepped out of an early Coen brothers movie. Compared to those guys, John McCain looks like Nancy Pelosi, which might be why he's losing his primary. Arizona is, in other words, exactly the kind of place where a subtextually racist old school law-and-order measure would be popular among voters. Whether or not it gets overturned in a federal court or actually becomes a deterrent for illegal immigrants isn't totally beside the point for the members of the Arizona Legislature. Good policy or not, they get to go home with a sticker that says “tough on immigration,” and that's what counts. You have to admit, the Arizona Republicans know what their base likes—less Mexicans.

The usual argument for “tough on immigration” laws like this goes something along the lines of: “My grandfather immigrated to this country, but he did so legally and Hispanics should have to do the same. They should wait their turn, and be happy we allow any immigrants into this country at all!” That sounds good, but it completely ignores the reality of Mexico. With the drug war turning into an actual war in the cities and the devastation of rural areas by free-trade policies that force corn farmers to compete with subsidized US corn farms*, it's perfectly reasonable for Mexicans to want to cross the border by any means necessary. Anyone's grandfather would do the same. The Arizona law is aimed at making life worse for illegal aliens, but no matter how much of a police state Arizona becomes, it will still be a lot better than some parts of Mexico. After all, the worst thing the cops can do to an illegal immigrant is send him back.

*For a fairly thorough, though dryly-worded, overview of this subject, check this out.

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