MY SWEET, SMART MOM ASKED ME why what was going on in Arizona was going on in Arizona. "Wasn't America made up of immigrants?" she asked. It is a good question, why are those surly people so surly?
Short answer is they are angry because they have been aggravated too long. Where most people across the United States see illegal immigration as an abstract problem, for many in Arizona, and the other border states, it is much more real. They can see the horrific drug-smuggling-fuelled crime wave just across the border. They know statistics such as 17% of those caught trying to enter Arizona illegally from Mexico have a criminal record. And they may be aware that this is more than a couple of guys. The U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 403,493 entrants without documents in 2006 on the Arizona border. That's one year and one state -- and, of course, doesn't count those who weren't apprehended.
Wouldn't you be angry and aggravated if you thought the lack of good immigration laws, and the failure to enforce the ones we have now, were putting you out of work, preventing you from obtaining a better job, keeping you from getting a raise at the one you do have, raising your taxes, hiking your town's crime rate and generally lowering your quality of life? I would.
Amnesty for illegal immigrants has already been tried in 1986 via a bipartisan bill signed by Ronald Reagan. It didn't work -- and without secure borders, real penalties for employers, active prosecution for identity fraud as well as vigorous enforcement of current immigration laws in general, a new amnesty won't either. In fact, it will do just the opposite, as it rewards the original unlawful acts.
Most Americans don't believe, in principle, in rewarding law breakers for their unlawful acts, any unlawful act (and entering this country illegally or overstaying a legal visa is a violation of the law). Most Americans do believe in limited legal immigration. Most Americans are not racist. A 2009 survey found that clear majorities of Hispanics (56%), African-Americans (57%) and Asian-Americans (68%), all thought immigration, not just illegal immigration, was too high. And majorities of all three groups "support enforcement to encourage illegals to go home."
Illegal immigration, like America's many other difficult problems (such as Medicare, Social Security, federal spending deficits and the tax code) has no easy, politically pain-free solution. So, we mostly do nothing and let the problem get worse.
Besides inaction, why do we have such an overwhelming illegal immigration problem? One reason is good. Most of the world sees America as a highly desirable place to live.
The middle-class laborers and working poor don't like illegal immigration, even when they admire the immigrants themselves, because the hardworking illegal immigrants take their jobs and reduce their wages, while the non-working illegal immigrants take social services they pay for. Taxpayers don't like illegal immigration because they don't think that illegal immigrants pay their fair share of taxes. (Real numbers are hard to come by on this, but even if the illegal immigrants wanted to pay all their taxes -- and tell the truth, who does -- their "undocumented" status would make that difficult.)
Just like water wants to run downhill, the poor run to money, and those without freedom flow to places of where liberty and opportunity abound -- like America. If this migration were unrestrained, America would be overwhelmed. That is why we have chosen to put limits on immigration, so that America will remain America.
Ironically, if we don't stanch this continuing influx of immigrants, it may stop itself. With unabated immigration, America will progressively become more and more like the places that the immigrants were escaping from, so at some point they will stop coming -- when it becomes no better than where they were before.
I think we can come up with a better solution than leaving the status quo. If we can't, the whole world will be poorer for it.
Gary D. Gaddy recommends that his local readers go to YouTube and search for "immigration gumballs" if they have any notion that unchecked immigration to the U.S. can solve the world's problems. He doesn't need to tell this to his Arizona readers, they already know.
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday April 30, 2010.
Copyright 2010 Gary D. Gaddy