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Arizona, the Rest of Us, and the Futility of Hiding from Immigration

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Apr 26, 2010

One can deplore or applaud Arizona’s new get-tough law cracking down on illegal immigrants, but rational debate is not served by Cardinal Mahony’s characterization of the new law as the kind of tactic used by Communists and Nazis. Nor is rational debate served by the Federal government’s head-in-the-sand approach to the problem of illegal immigration. Readers may recall how quickly the question of immigration faded from view during our last presidential campaign. Frankly, nobody knew what to say about it. Or at least nobody knew how to say anything effective that would also be popular.

It is perfectly clear to me that the root issue in illegal immigration is as old as history itself: There is ultimately nothing anybody can do politically to stop mass migrations that are driven by pressures which go way beyond politics. For this reason, it makes far more sense to seek ways to creatively work with the situation and harness the human energies it produces. The alternative of trying desperately to preserve whatever makes us most comfortable is unrealistic, especially in a country whose birth rate has just fallen beneath the replacement level, and which needs huge amounts of immigrant labor as much as the immigrants themselves need jobs. I refer again to factors “way beyond politics” which drive mass migrations.

At the same time, it is an extremely important fact on the ground that places like Arizona bear the brunt of the problems which illegal immigration causes. Arizona is the number one location for illegal crossing of the Mexican border and the extensive drug-running and crime that go along with it. Arizonans have a right to be concerned, and to look for solutions. One proponent of the new law, state representative Russell Pearce, made it clear what he hopes to get out of it: “We'll have less crime. We'll have lower taxes. We'll have safer neighborhoods. We'll have shorter lines in the emergency rooms. We'll have smaller classrooms.” Every item on the Pearce list may not, under the circumstances, be morally desirable, but one would have to be blind not to see the attraction.

The new law makes it a crime to be in the country illegally (nothing new there, of course). It also requires local police officers, in the course of addressing other legal violations (such as traffic violations), to question those involved about their immigration status  if there is reason to suspect they are illegal immigrants; it allows lawsuits against government agencies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws; and it makes it illegal to hire illegal immigrants for day labor or knowingly transport them. It does not, as Cardinal Mahony claimed, require citizens to report illegals.

But there is certainly a legitimate concern that the only way police will be able to enforce this law is frequently to stop and question—in a word, harass—Hispanics, including those who are in the country legally, and including citizens. Racial profiling of some sort can hardly be avoided. How this will work out remains to be seen, but it has many of those worried who share common appearance traits with the majority of illegals. Of course, a certain amount of inconvenience to a whole lot of people will inevitably go along with any effort to try to stabilize our immigration problem. There are no easy solutions.

But Communists and Nazis? They were hardly hated, feared and morally culpable because they tried to keep illegal aliens out of their countries, or because they frequently questioned people to that end. They were hated, feared and morally culpable because they built totalitarian states atop warped ideologies, and persecuted or killed everybody who didn’t fit their ideological molds. It says much about Roger Cardinal Mahony's regard for truth that he thinks this a fair description of the citizens of Arizona, who have many good reasons—even if they also have some selfish ones—for wanting to bring some order out of the current chaos.

President Obama can express alarm (as President Obama has dutifully done), but he can’t claim to have yet presented a reasonable alternative. The government of Mexico can denounce this law as adversely affecting relations on both sides of the border (as the government of Mexico has strategically done), but it can’t claim to have made a significant effort to induce its own people to try to build better lives at home. Catholic bishops can seize the moral high ground (as Catholic bishops have piously done), but they can’t offer a sketch, let alone a blueprint, showing how to make the situation more manageable. And the citizens of Arizona, whether for or against the new law, may believe that something important has been accomplished here (as the citizens of Arizona on all sides vehemently do), but they are going to find that denial will not solve the immigration problem. It will simply change the pressure points.

Once again, mass migrations cannot be stopped without alleviating the pressures which drive them. Americans are apparently incapable of addressing their desire for continued economic growth by producing a large new generation of their own, or their desire for a secure and comfortable life without resorting to high taxes and massive social programs. Paradoxically, this is a better recipe for bankruptcy without immigration than with it. Meanwhile, the governments of Mexico and quite a number of other countries are apparently unwilling to address the needs of their own citizens through economic reform. So I advise everyone in the United States to prepare to get serious about the changes required by massive immigration. We can't stop it, but we may be able to improve substantially on how it works.

Now I hasten to admit that I, like almost everybody thus far, do not know enough to offer concrete proposals. But I do know one thing very well. Ultimately we will have to recognize that we’re all in this together. Indeed, that's how real Catholics always think. Therefore, we need to face the consequences of massive immigration in exactly the same way we are called to face everything else in life: Not with an unseeing defense of the status quo, but with work, creativity, intelligence, realism, love and prayer. Read the list backwards to succeed.

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Show 12 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Miss Cathy - May. 08, 2010 9:50 AM ET USA

    Masha, honest work is never a dead end. My grandfather worked in a slaughterhouse and raised 9 children with his wife who did not work outside the home. I have friends who are maids. While many people do not encourage their children to take these jobs, they are still necessary and they pay the mortgage and put food on the table. A child of responsible age who is allowed to live off of mom and dad or the government when honest work is available, albeit not a "great" job, is a loafer.

  • Posted by: masha - May. 04, 2010 1:10 AM ET USA

    How many of us encourage our children to become farmworkers? Slaughterhouse workers? Maids? Americans, understandably, don't want such dead-end work for their children. And yet, when these poor people (I won't call them "illegals"; it is unimaginable that Jesus would call His children that) cross the border out of desperation and do the work shunned by our fellow citizens, they are reviled, often with repugnant anti-Christian, racist vitriol. Immigration reform needs to have the face of Christ.

  • Posted by: Bernadette - Apr. 28, 2010 3:30 PM ET USA

    Jeff, I think you are wrong about the only way the police/sheriffs can enforce this law is to stop and harass those who look like Mexicans; i.e. racial profiling. The law doesn't say that. It says that only in the process of stopping someone/anyone for a traffic violation or some other infraction or danger, say, a broken window or rear light out, if they then have suspicions, they are to ask for proof of citizenship - only then. They are not to seek out anyone because of skin color, etc.

  • Posted by: richardols3892 - Apr. 28, 2010 11:57 AM ET USA

    Cardinal Mahony is not far off with his characterization of the new law as being reminiscent of Nazi tactics. Police can detain and demand papers from anyone they have "lawful contact" with, but since the law defines illegal immigrants as trespassing when in any part of the United States, the police have the freedom to question anyone otherwise NOT breaking the law or engaging in suspicious activity. Even Tom Tancredo said that the law goes too far. "Seine Papieren, bitte!!" isn't far off.

  • Posted by: MAG - Apr. 28, 2010 8:17 AM ET USA

    Well stated as usual Jeff. This is an opportunity for Catholics to exercise their prophetic office and speak out against both the draconian Arizona laws and the lethargy of the federal government to discharge its responsibilities. As to concrete solutions: Investment in Mexico, tougher border enforcement, immigration reform that respects families and accelerates citizenship - and reform of drug laws - all will be necessary. Will any leader have the courage to tackle it holistically?

  • Posted by: 1russellclan9303 - Apr. 28, 2010 1:08 AM ET USA

    Being an Arizonan, I can tell you that from our personal angle it will be a help-no matter the political posturing & said boycotts involved. The damage & most recently, the murder of a long time rancher, done by illegals crossing onto private properties has got to be addressed. We are in no way against immigration, we'd just like it to be done legally. We ourselves adopted 2 kids from Guatemala and had to abide by the then INS rules to do it, so others coming in should have to as well.

  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - Apr. 28, 2010 12:20 AM ET USA

    America is being invaded by people who are turning this country into the ones they came from. Instead of a melting pot we have become a stewing pot. Our constitution has been relegated to the trash heap of history, and our children and grandchildren will be slaves to the New World Order. We are about to embark on a reign of terror in America. Be afraid. Be very afraid. The man of lawlessness has mounted his horse.

  • Posted by: ltluca7192 - Apr. 27, 2010 10:26 PM ET USA

    In a word, the immigration situation is a mess, and it is a mess that was made by the politicians who claim to be Americans. There was a period in America's life when immigration was 'controlled'. That means so many immigrants entered this country with legal means, and 'illegal immigrants' were sent back to their country of origin. There is a way out of this mess if honest politicians want to find it. Give immigrants a chance to prove their allegiance to America & after 5 years allow them in.

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Apr. 27, 2010 10:08 PM ET USA

    "Once again, mass migrations cannot be stopped without alleviating the pressures which drive them." This is really the crux of the issue. Why leave Mexico for the U.S.? If we help Mexico fix that, which means fixing the corruption problem in their government, then we can start making progress.

  • Posted by: RobK - Apr. 27, 2010 6:49 PM ET USA

    What a well reasoned and reasonable position! I believe you hit the nail on the head with the cause. And the solution must be just and reasonable laws. Right now we have law breakers breaking unreasonable laws. Neither part of that equation is just - neither the laws nor the law breaking (Cardinal Mahony forgets that part about breaking laws being unjust).

  • Posted by: jflare293129 - Apr. 27, 2010 6:28 PM ET USA

    I think it very telling that even though many have chastised Arizona intensely, none have done anything to really solve the problem. Congress has not acted, the President has not pestered the Congress to act, and the bishops have not begun a cohesive, sustained campaign to induce either of the above to begin to act. Small wonder the Church in America has so little authority with people.

  • Posted by: Cornelius - Apr. 27, 2010 9:55 AM ET USA

    The violence and lawlessness that tend to accompany illegal immigration, in particular drug-related violence, also have their cause in Americans' insatiable hunger for illegal substances. To some extent, it's a case of the chickens coming home to roost.

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