Sunday, July 31, 2011

Beneath The Veil Of The Immigration Debate

During the debate on SB 1070, Arizona's controversial immigration law, its more sophisticated critics argued that it was a flawed means to address illegal immigration. They voiced concerns that it could lead to racial profiling that would adversely effect Americans citizens and legal immigrants. Whether this would have come to fruition is uncertain, but as someone who strongly supports civil liberties, I recognize that this is a legitimate concern. Opponents of this law also questioned its constitutionality, arguing that Arizona was usurping the federal government's role as the sole author and enforcer of immigration law. While I was not completely convinced about the veracity of their argument, I respect those who seek to adhere to the letter and spirit of the constitution. Ultimately, I decided to give the critics of this and other tough enforcement measures the benefit of the doubt and assume that they understood the importance of immigration control and rule of law, but were simply concerned about the means used to achieve these ends. But, a closer look at some recent events cast some serious doubt on this premise. I am lead to believe that beneath the veil of nuanced policy debates lies a deeper divide in which one side fundamentally opposes the basic enforcement of existing immigration laws and the other seeks its realization.

Not surprisingly, the first and most blatant example occurred in our very own political cesspool, the State of Illinois. In 2008, Illinois became the only state to pass a law banning the use of E-Verify, which is "a free (and voluntary) program run by the United States government that compares information (veracity of a social security number) from an employee's Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 to data from U.S. government records. If the information matches, that employee is eligible to work in the United States. If there's a mismatch, E-Verify alerts the employer and the employee is allowed to work while he or she resolves the problem; they must contact the appropriate agency to resolve the mismatch within eight federal government work days from the referral date." Agreeing with the federal government, the US District Court overturned the Illinois law and now employers can voluntarily participate in this program. In 2009, the US Senate and House dropped a requirement that companies receiving stimulus funds must use E-Verify. And recently Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) warned President Obama that if a proposed bill for the expansion of this program passsed, he would lose Latino votes in the 2012 election.

Thus we see that the opponents of E-Verify fear it NOT because they believe it is ineffective and would lead to racial profiling, but rather because it does work. In other words, its opponents seek to block the enforcement of existing immigration laws. While Mr. Gutierrez's pursuit of immigration reform is legitimate, blocking the enforcement of existing laws erodes the rule of law and has an element of third world corruption.

An even more controversial is Secure Communities, "an American deportation program that relies on partnership between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies." Participating states and localities share data of incarcerated individuals to determine their legality and facilitate the deportation of the most serious offenders. In this program, agencies are not asked to siphon limited time and resources to track down illegal immigrants (rather than serious criminals), but to cross reference the status of those they have apprehended for other violations. Primarily due to the efforts of Governor Quinn and Luis Gutierrez Illinois was the first state to withdraw from this program and was subsequently followed by Massachusetts, New York and several municipalities. Theis opposition is based on the allegation that a significant portion of those deported were either charged with a misdemeanor or no crime at all. During a no confidence vote against their appointed directors, Union of Immigration and Custom Enforcement disputed this claim as a wilful misrepresentation of the data. Either way, it's clear that Governor Quinn and his allies are opposed to the enforcement of existing immigration laws. Granted, on an emotional level I do find it deeply disconcerting to see the prosecution and deportation of individuals who are not serious criminal offenders, but the basic tenants of the rule of law dictates that we cannot selectively choose which laws we do or do not enforce. Until comprehensive immigration reform is enacted, Secure Communities must remain a vital bridge between federal and local law enforcement agencies.

Admittedly the argument that states should focus its limited resources on serious crime rather than harassing undocumented immigrants is appealing, however at a closer look it becomes apparent that this is an act of sophistry that bears no semblance to the modus operandus of state, local and federal authorities. First, they would never make the argument that we should cease enforcing the multitude of other burdensome rules and regulations, because of the presence of serious crime. No Chicago or Illinois politician has ever adcocated that we cease penalizing small businesses that do not comply with required licenses, permits and procedures, because we should be focusing our resources on murderers and rapists. Although the police department's priority is to prosecute dangerous criminals, a police officer will not think twice about heavily fining someone for parking a work truck on certain residential streets. I can think of no other federal law that Illinois's state and local officials opt out of, so clearly their considerations are political and not one of good governance.

But what of the claim that these laws should not be enforced because they impose undue hardships on good, hard working immigrants and their families? This line of argumentation is compelling, because each year, deportations ruin the lives of countless individuals and tear families apart. But, is this also not the case for the enforcement of 1001 other laws that few bother to question? Have they ever called for the non-enforcement of any other law or ordinance becauase its violators are "good and hard working"? If I am unwilling or unable to pay taxes, will the government not impose great hardships on my family and I, by seizing my assets, imprisoning me and separating me from my loved ones? Why do Quinn and Gutierrez not demonstrate similar sympathy for the countless families who are torn apart, who are economically ruined by imprisonment of the father or mother for the "crime" of smoking marijuana? If they are so concerned about imposing undue hardships on "otherwise hard working and law abiding families" and "siphoning time and resources away from the prosecution of more serious crimes," why do they aid and abet the more senseless aspects of the federal government's war on drugs? The answer is simple: their selective application of the law is driven by political, not economic or humanistic concerns. Specifically, they do not want to alienate the perceived interests and desires of a growing component of the democratic party: Latino Voters. The reason I use the qualifier perceived, is because unlike Quinn and Gutierrez, I have faith that the majority of my Hispanic neighbors are good, patriotic citizens whose focus is the economic and social welfare of all Americans, not narrow ethno-identity politics. And even though those of good conscience cannot help but be moved by the plight of undocumented immigrants, more than anyone, those who have left Latin America are painfully aware of economic, social and political cost that the erosion of the rule of law imposes on all, lessons we hope that more American politicians will heed.

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