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Four Questions About Immigration

The issue that won't go away.

3:36 PM, May 6, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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When I first heard about Arizona law SB 1070, I was taken aback. Press coverage suggested the law authorized state and local police to go around demanding someone's papers on the slightest suspicion that he or she is an illegal immigrant. The clear implication was that Hispanic communities would be targeted. And since this seemed to violate constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure and equality before the law, my inclination was to oppose the bill.

However, the more you read about the Arizona law, the more you realize the press is so committed to a "racism" narrative that they haven't told the full story. Heather Mac Donald provides a typically lucid analysis of the bill here:

The law, SB 1070, empowers local police officers to check the immigration status of individuals whom they have encountered during a “lawful contact,” if an officer reasonably suspects the person stopped of being in the country illegally, and if an inquiry into the person’s status is “practicable.” The officer may not base his suspicion of illegality “solely [on] race, color or national origin.” (Arizona lawmakers recently amended the law to change the term “lawful contact” to “lawful stop, detention or arrest” and deleted the word “solely” from the phrase regarding race, color, and national origin. The governor is expected to sign the amendments.) The law also requires aliens to carry their immigration documents, mirroring an identical federal requirement. Failure to comply with the federal law on carrying immigration papers becomes a state misdemeanor under the Arizona law.

Now, in my opinion, workplace enforcement is a better way to deter illegal immigration, because it raises the price of illegal labor. Immigration is a supply and demand problem: the demand for cheap labor in the United States produces the supply of illegal immigrants. Cut the demand and the supply will dwindle. Nevertheless, after reading Mac Donald's piece, along with Christopher Caldwell's, David Frum's, and George Will's recent columns on the subject, SB 1070 looks like a desperate, slightly inflammatory, yet more or less reasonable attempt to address a pressing issue. The state is trying to make federal immigration laws work. Marco Rubio and Phil Jackson (!) agree. Here's Jackson:

First Jackson, who has showed lefty leanings in the past, indicated he had no problem with the controversial state Senate Bill 1070. 

“Am I crazy, or am I the only one that heard [the legislature] say ‘we just took the United States immigration law and adapted it to our state,’” Jackson said. 

I told him they usurped the federal law. 

“It’s not usurping, it’s just copying it is what they said they did, and then they gave it some teeth to be able to enforce it,” Jackson said. 

Then he mildly scolded the Suns. 

“I don’t think teams should get involved in the political stuff. And I think this one’s still kind of coming out to balance as to how it’s going to be favorably looked upon by our public. If I heard it right the American people are really for stronger immigration laws, if I’m not mistaken. Where we stand as basketball teams, we should let that kind of play out and let the political end of that go where it’s going to go.” 

The reaction to SB 1070 is as interesting as the bill itself. The hysteria, the boycotts, the rallies, and "Los Suns" suggest that, in the future, immigration, not health care, might be regarded as the dominant domestic issue of our time. The problem is that a lot of people who are worried about Arizona -- myself included! -- seem to want it both ways. They want America to remain a beacon for immigrants, a welcoming country that treats everyone equally.  But they also want to uphold the rule of law and the principle that a country is sovereign over its borders. Too often, the latter goal is seen to conflict with the former. So here are four questions for opponents of SB 1070 who claim not to embrace the radical, open borders position that ruled until 1875:

1. Does the law have meaning? That is, if Congress has declared certain forms of migration illegal, isn't the state (broadly construed) required to enforce those laws?

2. Does illegal immigration suppress the wages of low-skilled workers?

3. Does America have the right to fence its borders?

4. Of which enforcement measures should we approve?

After due consideration, it's hard to answer Yes to questions one, two, and three, and not think SB 1070 is a basically sensible answer to question four.

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