Thursday, May 6, 2010

There is a better way

We all know that the illegal immigrants come to the United States because there are many business owners willing to hire them (for much less than minimum wage). We all know these farmers, poultry businesses, and building contractors hire illegal immigrants in order to get around paying an American worker minimum wage. These business owners deserve jail time for undermining our economy by not hiring Americans. If the illegal immigrants cannot get work in this country, many would go back home on their own volition.

Arizona’s new immigration law requires the police to demand proof of legal residency from any person with whom they have made “any lawful contact” and if they have “reasonable suspicion” that the person “is unlawfully present in the United States.” The phrase “lawful contact” seems to authorize the police to act only if they observe an undocumented-looking person actually committing a crime. But, no, this is not the case. Another section says, “A person is guilty of trespassing” by being “present on any public or private land in this state” while lacking authorization to be in the United States. So, if a person looks Hispanic, they had better have papers on them to prove citizenship. The intent, according to the State Legislature, is “attrition through enforcement.”

Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, a legislator from Tucson, has already called on the nation to protest the law by withholding its convention business. Such boycotts can be effective, as demonstrated in the late 1980s when the loss not only of convention business but of the Super Bowl prompted Arizona voters to change their mind and reinstate a Martin Luther King holiday in the state. This could happen again as the businesses of the state begin to lose money. The state’s population is already under water with their home mortgages. They can ill afford for the people of the United States to boycott their businesses.

Arizona is now being depicted as the official state of "racial profiling," with anti-Hispanic and anti-immigration labels swirling around it. But, to me, the passage of its bill to prevent the continued influx and presence of illegal immigrants in the State appears more like an act of desperation than racially motivated legislation. They are just tackling the problem from the wrong angle.

Supreme Court precedents make clear that immigration is a federal matter and that the Constitution does not authorize the states to conduct their own foreign policies. For example, in 1975, Texas passed a law to deprive undocumented immigrant children of a free public education. Many thousands of children – many of whom were on the road to eventual citizenship under immigration laws that were notably less harsh back then – faced being thrown out of school and deprived of a future. The law was challenged in federal court, with the Carter administration supporting the plaintiffs. By the time the case reached the Supreme Court, Ronald Reagan was president, and there was a major push within his administration to change sides. Rex E. Lee, the solicitor general, refused to do so. By a vote of 5 to 4, the Supreme Court struck down the Texas law. Justice William J. Brennan Jr. wrote for the majority that the constitutional guarantee of equal protection prohibited the state from imposing “a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable for their disabling status.” Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., a Nixon appointee and the swing justice of his day, provided the fifth vote. He wrote that the law “threatens the creation of an underclass of future citizens and residents.”

Another example: Not too long ago the city of Hazleton, PA, passed a law that made it a crime for a landlord to rent an apartment to an undocumented immigrant. A federal judge struck down the law on the ground that immigration is the business of the federal government.

During a news conference, Attorney General Eric Holder gave the strongest indication yet that the administration will try to block Arizona's immigration law from taking effect. Holder said "the law is an unfortunate one that will be subject to potential abuse" and that the Justice Department is "considering a court challenge." Federal preemption would appear to be the most promising route for attacking the Arizona law. But I do not have confidence that the current Supreme Court will follow the constitution because the right-leaning majority often translates the constitution in support of businesses and state governments – against the rights of individuals.

Some Republicans are coming out against the law, too. Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) said he thinks Arizona's new immigration law is unconstitutional and that "it doesn't represent the best way forward" when it comes to addressing illegal immigration.

Wasn’t the system of checking a person’s papers to see if they are ‘legal’ one of the features of life in communist Soviet Union and apartheid South Africa?

There is a better way to handle the issue of illegal immigrants than to spend millions of dollars searching for them ‘by checking papers’: set up a nation-wide computerized system for documented immigrants and require business owners to check an immigrant’s legal status before hiring. It is time to upgrade out antiquated immigration service – bring it into the 21st century with a computerized database. If the worker is not in the federal immigrant database, they do not get hired. And we should issue temporary work visas for migrant farmhands to pick crops – then they go back home. If the business owner or homeowner (who hires maids, gardeners, etc) knew they could pay steep fines and do jail time for hiring illegal immigrants, I bet they would be very reluctant to do so. In fact, I bet you would see currently unemployed American citizens get some of those jobs. We all know some unemployed Americans who would be happy to mow some yards, trim some landscaping, or clean someone's house to put food on the table.

Yes, there is a better way to solve the illegal immigrant problem. Enforce the law and put the employers in jail.