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Immigration reform: a story without a hero

Angry protesters in Arizona
Angry protesters in Arizona

The new law that passed in Arizona giving local law enforcement expanded powers to crack down on illegal immigrants no doubt drew a lot of criticism and outrage from many civil rights and immigrant rights groups. They liken it to legal racial profiling and police harassment. It is a bold step for a state government, many states who have the same problems as Arizona with respect to illegal immigrants want to do something similar to this but fearing the political consequences and potential violation of constitutional rights, they always back down. The current economic and political climate is the perfect impetus for this type of drastic law to be passed. Many Americans from the right, left and center are in no mood to tolerate any more problems that illegal immigrants may bring with them over the border. Specifically in Arizona, some areas are so densely populated with Latino immigrants that an American citizen, irrespective of ethnic background, can no longer get a job at a local chain restaurant (i.e. Hometown Buffet) if they do not speak Spanish. So, it is not just that illegal immigrants might take away jobs from US citizens, as that correlation has always been tenuous, but as they are shifting the demographic of whole cities where if you don't conform to their language, culture and customs, you won't be able to get a job in a Latino dominated community, even if you are an American citizen. It is not difficult to see in this tough economic climate where every job available is precious, even the people with more tolerant views of immigrants are angry at the state of affairs. The inherent benefits of living in America should always go to US citizens and legal aliens first before anyone else.

The issue of illegal immigration, especially pertaining to Latino illegal immigrants has been talked about and discussed ad nauseum for over 30 years. Many probably already forgot how things came to be, how illegal immigration went from the political fringe, a pet project or cause for liberal politicians to a full blown national crisis with protesters from all sides lining the streets. And if one is to play the blame game on this this issue, I am afraid US employers and the US government must take the first blame. The government turned a blind eye to the influx of migrant farm workers starting from the fifties. Americans wanted cheap produce and fruits, and with all the minimum wage, sick pay and vacation pay requirements, there was simply no way for farmers to provide cheap produce and fruits to consumers. But illegal migrant farm workers solved the problem. They accepted lower wages, didn't mind the working conditions, the long hours, the backbreaking work, didn't demand health care or any other benefits besides their wages, and they left willingly when the harvest season was over. It was a great arrangement for everyone, no harm no foul. Yeah sure, employing illegal immigrants was (probably) against the law, but it was a victimless crime. Ultimately, everyone is happy. And this attitude and mentality spread to other industries where it was cheaper to hire illegal labor than go through the whole rigmarole of putting everyone on the payroll, paying the payroll taxes and have to deal with state regulations when it comes to minimum wage, one hour lunch breaks and other worker's rights. Illegal immigrants won't sue you when they get injured on the job, they won't sue you if they experience discrimination and won't demand back pay when they didn't get their one hour lunch and two 10 minute breaks during the day.

As time goes on, it's not just the lone immigrant who works and lives in the US, they have families, they create families and once they find out how much benefits an underprivileged child born in the US can receive, add to that free public education, the ability to speak English, financial aid to go to college, with these potential rewards, maybe the risk of crossing the border illegally is worth it. One often overlooked fact is that the United States is the only developed nation that shares this long of a border (over 1200 miles) with a third world country. When San Diego, Ca beefed up it's border security, the coyotes and illegal immigrants began crossing the border via Arizona, the conditions and weather there are more treacherous, many lives have been lost, but it has not deterred many illegal immigrants from taking that risk and crossing the border.

Fast forward to today, like all relationships that have no clearly defined boundaries, people will overstep and overreach for what they believe is their right and the lines of propriety are blurred. The 12 million accounted for Illegal immigrants that are currently in the US are now demanding amnesty, demanding equal rights as US citizens simply because they have lived, raised children and contributed to the greater economy in the US for so long. Never mind the fact that they were here illegally in the first place, because even squatters have rights. In last Sunday's broadcast of "60 Minutes", residents of some towns in Arizona are 'demanding' their local councils to make the All-American Canal safer, meaning put in buoys and rope lines because a lot illegal immigrants in their attempt to swim across that canal have drowned. The All-American Canal is a man made canal that is designed to convey water from the Colorado River to irrigate the farms in El Centro, Ca. There are plenty of signs by the canal in English and Spanish warning the public that the canal is very dangerous, it's not for recreation and most importantly, do not enter. Logic should then follow that if one chooses to enter, even after reading the warning signs, after knowing that many have already drowned in the canal, shouldn't those people be assuming their own risk? Why does the government have to appropriate budget to make a body of water that is not designed for swimming, fishing or any other type of recreation safer and at the same time aiding and abetting illegal immigrants entering into the country.

The arguments of anti-immigration supporters always focused on the economics, illegal immigrants-they claim take jobs away from US citizens and legal aliens-especially the unskilled jobs and it mostly affects people with a high school diploma or less. Now there is another argument to anti-immigration supporters, some say a more legitimate argument: crimes committed by illegal immigrants. An illegal immigrant who is arrested for a crime gets all of the same rights as an US citizen or legal alien. They get a right to an attorney, the state will provide them an attorney if they cannot afford one, they get state certified court interpreters to help them at trial and with their testimony and if they get convicted, they will serve their sentence in a US prison and then be deported back to the country of their origin after they finish serving their sentence. US prisons compared to prisons in Mexico is like a 5 star hotel where prisoners get 3 square meals a day, air conditioning, access to education and activities that can help them when they leave prison. All of this is coming from the coffers of the state and federal government, especially in states like California and Arizona, where the housing crisis and the recession that followed have hit especially hard, many constituents have lost all patience and sympathy for the plight of illegal immigrants. It is also because of this sentiment combined with the state's frustration with the Federal government's failure to protect the borders, the law in Arizona was passed, even with strong opposition by civil rights leaders and immigrant rights groups.

The new law that was passed is awash with enforcement problems. President Obama called it "misguided" but he understood why Arizonans took such drastic action. Former Governor, now the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has received several similar bills with regards to illegal immigration and she vetoed them all not because she was pro-illegal immigration but because there will be problems with enforcement. The Arizona bill is a bill that was written and passed in an angry response to current events in Arizona, where a rancher was allegedly killed by an illegal immigrant who might happen to be a drug cartel member. Anything done in anger is just reactionary and does not get to the root of the problem. It may feel like one has done the right thing for the moment, but things done in anger are always shortsighted, impulsive and sometimes counterproductive to the problem one is trying to solve. Though Governor Brewer signed an executive order along with the bill that a law enforcement cannot stop and question someone solely based on race and skin color, it still does not answer or solve the possibilities of basic constitutional rights violations.

By just taking a quick glance at this bill, one can think of so many violations off the top of the head. First, the Miranda rights, when during the process of questioning, does an 'immigration violation' suspect get read their Miranda rights? If a suspect is cuffed and the police have to search the suspect's car for their legal resident paperwork, when does it become illegal searches and seizure? What if the suspect didn't know that he or she could Plead the Fifth? And not to mention racial profiling, it is a known fact that most illegal immigrants in Arizona are from Mexico or other Latin American countries, they are not from Sweden or Norway. So an illegal alien in Arizona will mostly likely look Latino with variations of brown skin tone, dark hair and dark eyes, a reasonable police officer will have no reason to suspect someone who looks Swedish or Norwegian to be an illegal alien and there is no way for police to stop everyone they see on the street and ask for identification. If someone is arrested on charges of immigration law violation, will the the local law enforcement have enough public defenders and court certified legal interpreters on hand? What if someone signed a confession or a statement but they didn't understand fully what he or she signed, but they did not request a lawyer nor an interpreter and appeared to speak and understand English. The state of Arizona could be bombarded with lawsuits charging law enforcement officers with with violating due process amendment,  fifth amendment rights and illegal searches and seizure among others.

Immigration is now a very divisive and emotional issue. Some illegal aliens in this country  have resided in this country so long that that they no longer have any connection with their country of origin, especially the people that were brought over as children or infants, they consider themselves to be American and their home to be in America, there is nothing for them to return to. There are some situations where families will be separated because the children were born in the US but the parents were not. The issue of immigration is now divided into two camps, if you are against amnesty of all the 12 million undocumented people in the US, you are racist and xenophobic. The people that are for immigration reform and amnesty are seen bleeding heart liberals that treat America like a charity shop. The sensible middle solution is loosing ground everyday, the position of 'earned citizenship' endorsed by President Obama and other members of Congress and some governors is now a joke and getting derision from all sides. If people thought health care reform was divisive and incendiary, wait until there is a comprehensive immigration bill which includes earned pathway to citizenship on the floor for debate, local governments will need to summon the army to guard the town hall meetings.


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