Rich, I’m glad some Arizona legislators will now amend the law to clarify “lawful contact” — but their willingness to do so suggests that I’ve been right all along in interpreting the broad application of that section. Moreover, they don’t intend to drop the portions of the law that give other officials of state, county, local, or other political subdivisions the right to demand proof of legal status. Arizona law already allows welfare agencies and voter registrars to determine legal status — and I heartily approve of that, as I do the right to turn over convicted felons who are illegally in the U.S. to ICE for detention and/or deportation. But I don’t want local education-agency officials forcing anyone they suspect of being illegally in the U.S. to produce their papers. Doing so will discourage parents from enrolling their U.S. citizen children in school. And if you really want to drive up crime in Arizona, discourage teenagers from going to school (or working, as many illegal immigrants already do, albeit illegally).
It really gets down to what you want to happen in Arizona. And the law’s preamble is pretty clear on that front: “attrition through enforcement.” The whole purpose of the law is to drive out illegal immigrants — and their minor children who are U.S. citizens — by making it impossible for them to work or live peaceably and productively. The law wants to do it in a politically correct way — no mass round-ups, no cattle cars heading south filled with illegal immigrants, just slow, steady harassment. And the problem is that the overwhelming majority of these people are law-abiding, tax paying residents who have contributed to the economic success of the state (as they do virtually everywhere they live). As my departed friend Rich Nadler and others have repeatedly demonstrated, states with large numbers of immigrants (and in all cases that includes large populations of illegal immigrants) have higher GDP, lower unemployment, higher wages, and lower crime than those with few foreign-born residents.
Yes, illegal immigrants, by definition, have violated our immigration laws. But those laws are outdated and do not allow sufficient numbers of legal immigrants or temporary workers to enter the United States to fill jobs that Americans aren’t taking. The Democrats are cynically supporting new legislation that purports to address the problem, but doesn’t. The only way to solve the problem is to change our legal immigration laws — but the groups who are behind the Arizona law don’t want that to happen. They oppose legal as well as illegal immigration, pushing for moratoria or, in some cases, no-net increase in the number of permanent residents or temporary workers admitted. And that approach is how we ended up with 10 million illegal immigrants in the first place. These people don’t sneak across the desert risking their lives because they’re too lazy or stupid to apply for legal residence. Nor do most employers hire them in order to exploit or cheat them by paying subminimum wages. They hire them because their productivity rates in most instances are higher than those of comparable U.S.–born workers doing the same jobs (those without a high school degree, for example, who are the people most likely to take jobs as poultry processors, lettuce pickers, or hotel maids). We need immigration reform that is market-based and allows these workers to come here legally.
As for my friend Peter Kirsanow’s sudden approval of Supreme Court precedents on the question of using race as one factor in pulling over suspected illegal immigrants, I’m a little surprised. I don’t recall his embrace of the race-as-one-factor argument when Justice O’Connor invoked it in her majority opinion upholding racial preferences in Grutter.