More Immigration Blogging -- What Does It Mean To Secure a Border?

Thu, 06 May 2010 21:30:26 +0000

In more than five years of blogging, I have noticed that posts on immigration generate some of the most heated exchanges in the comment section.  Last week's short post on the new Arizona immigration law was no exception. Here are some more points I'd like to make.

First, what does the law mean?  There have been different characterizations presented in the media, but what I had in mind was similar to this one presented by Roger Noriega:

The Arizona law  requires the police to determine the immigration status of any person who is stopped for any "lawful" reason.  Only if that person does not present valid, government-issued identification is there a "reasonable suspicion" that he or she is "unlawfully present in the United States," after which the officer must make reasonable attempts to verify the person's immigration status.  State authorities are required to report the arrest or conviction of an illegal alien to federal immigration authorities.  The law requires an illegal alien (or a lawful alien who is not carrying his green card) to pay fines and jail costs.  The vast majority of the bill is dedicated to imposing stiff sanctions on those who employ or smuggle illegal aliens.

This is consistent with how I think we should begin addressing illegal immigration.  (See my first post on immigration reform from March 2006.)  If this is not the way the law is intended to work, then the law should be modified.

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Second, I wrote the post last week as a reaction to hearing the law described by the President as "misguided" without his acknowledging the murder that precipitated the law.  He was acknowledging "failure to act responsibly at the federal level."  That failure abetted a murder.  If he wasn't going to connect the dots, then I certainly was.  And if the federal government isn't going to act responsibly, the citizenry must do it for themselves, either as private individuals or through sub-federal governments.  In the post, I indicated that the Arizona law was within the set of things I'd be willing to accept to keep my fellow citizens safe.  Many commenters suggested that was "mighty white" of me, presumably based on their different interpretation of the law.  A recent New York Times/CBS poll indicates that I am far from alone in my view.  That doesn't necessarily justify the view, but it is relevant for the political solution that will emerge. 

Third, the President was back in the Rose Garden for Cinco de Mayo yesterday, and he found reason to describe the law as "misconceived."  Then he said (my emphasis added):

So I want to say it again, just in case anybody is confused. The way to fix our broken immigration system is through common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform.  (Applause.)  That means responsibility from government to secure our borders, something we have done and will continue to do.  It means responsibility from businesses that break the law by undermining American workers and exploiting undocumented workers -— they’ve got to be held accountable.  It means responsibility from people who are living here illegally.  They’ve got to admit that they broke the law, and pay taxes, and pay a penalty, and learn English, and get right before the law -- and then get in line and earn their citizenship.      

This makes his failure to acknowledge the murder even more absurd.  Arizona passed the law precisely because the federal government has not secured the borders.  The President has the three elements of comprehensive reform listed correctly (and, in my view, in the correct order of importance and implementation).  He's just wrong on the facts.  And until the federal government can make much more progress on securing the borders, there won't be much political will in Congress to hold businesses responsible or to offer a pathway to citizenship for those here illegally. 

Fourth, you can see a good example of how immigration splits the generally right of center coalition into conservatives (including me on this issue) and libertarians in this segment featuring fellow econoblogger Don Boudreaux.