If Arizona is Wrong on Immigration, then what?

WASHINGTON – The always relevant The New York Times dedicated an Editorial, “Showdown in Arizona“, July 28, 2010, to the Federal Court injunction that essentially blocks the “anti-immigrant” Arizona law just about when it was due to take effect. The paper clearly agrees with the Obama administration that challenged the legality/constitutionality of the Arizona state law dealing with a matter, immigration, traditionally reserved to federal authorities. The paper says that it is good to block states’ unwarranted activism, especially when the statutes they pass invite discrimination, racial profiling and other bad stuff. The piece’s conclusion, however, is baffling.


“Judge Bolton’s ruling reminded us all of the unacceptable price of the Arizona way: an incoherent immigration system, squandered law enforcement resources, diminished public safety, the awful sight of a nation of immigrants turning on itself. Mr. Obama took a big risk when he filed suit against the Arizona law, and deserves credit for that. We hope he goes on to make clear to all the states that the Arizona way is not the American way”.

Not the American way……

Fine. So, it is stipulated that “the Arizona way is not the American way”. State activism in a matter –immigration– that should be ruled and administered (wisely?) by Washington is not permissible. This is not the American way. And, instead, the American way is…? Well, this we are not told. Quite baffling. We are not told what that is.

Lacking other indications, then, are we to conclude that “the American way” is the continuation of this mess of de facto lawlessness within which millions of illegal immigrants every day take a chance, hoping that nothing will happen? Is the American way Federal immigration laws on the books but not seriously enforced, except here and there, almost whimsically, deporting some illegals every now and then? Is the American way the open tolerance of illegals, without taking serious steps to offer them a reasonable path to legalize their status, because such a step would be politically unpalatable? Is it the American way a porous national border that cannot be properly policed?

Let’s hope not. America is a country ruled by laws. In this area we have a mess, almost anarchy. We should fix it. If, indeed, the Arizona way is wrong, well, then let’s do it the right way. Leaving things as they are now, whatever The New York Times may think, is not smart, is not right and is not the American way, whereby important processes, such as immigration, should take place within clear and enforceable laws.

What should be done? Extreme positions will not do

So, what should be done about immigration? Let’s be clear, the hard line, conservative approach, articulated mostly by Republican members of the House of Representatives, whereby we strictly follow current law and start deporting all the illegals down to the last one is pure demagogic lunacy. It is unworkable, not to mention unjust. The notion that full enforcement of current immigration statutes is an absolute law and order imperative to protect America from all the criminals and potentially the terrorists who come as illegals is also silly. Sure enough there are criminals among the illegals. But are we saying that all or most of the estimated 12 million or more here illegally are criminals who represent a threat to society or national security? This is preposterous and everybody knows it.

Being here does not constitute a right

By the same token, the attitude of the Latino community, whereby everybody who is here, by virtue of this fact has an absolute, sacrosanct, implicit right to everything, (residency, citizenship, social services), is also preposterous. America is a country, not a charity or a hostel with an “All Welcome, No Questions Asked” sign at the door.

And let’s not confuse the acceptance of persecuted political refugees with an unregulated, open regime for all economic immigrants. Yes, America is a country of immigrants; and this is its strength. But immigration should take place within certain procedures. The notion that getting in, no matter how, creates a de facto entitlement to stay is not a good way to administer anything. All reasonable people should acknowledge this. All Latino legal residents who clamor for total acceptance of anybody, no matter what should recognize this.

Right now: deal with the emergency

Of course, right now we have a two pronged issue. We have to fix this mess, while we think about an appropriate immigration regime for the future. However, right now, today, we must resolve this huge anomaly that was allowed to fester until it became a national crisis involving millions of people. While we do not want to continue on a path that encourages illegal immigration going forward, for now, we have to resolve the problem we have. We can blame whoever we want for this.

It is clear that a relaxed attitude towards illegal immigrants compounded over many years created this problem. This anomaly needs to be corrected and soon; so that America can reclaim the right to be a country of laws and not a relaxed, informal arrangement stretched here or there by people who get here, reach critical numerical mass overtime, and then, by sheer force of numbers, manage to impose solutions

We have to offer a workable path to legalization

So, in order to deal with this situation, an equitable solution must be found, somehow. And realistically a solution will not be in finding a middle point, splitting the difference between those who want total legalization and those who want to deport all the illegals. Any realistic solution has to be biased in favor of the millions of people who are here and who have been here for many years. Most of them are law abiding. Many have children who were born here. The idea that we need to deport illegal aliens because most of them are wanted criminals is just laughable, not to mention untrue. Sure enough there are criminals among them, and they should be dealt with. But individually, on by one, each case examined on its merit, and not as part of criminalized ethnic groups.

Yes, it is “amnesty”

And yes, let’s be candid: any process aimed at allowing people to legalize their status will be, in practice, if not in name, an “amnesty”. The idea that any legalization process has to be punitive, (with fines and other penalties attached), in as much as these people are law breakers to begin with may be right in the abstract, but unworkable and unjust in practice.

Some have argued that by allowing a simple path to legalization, we would reward law breakers. Well, yes and no. While it would be nice to differentiate among various categories, can we call someone who came a here 20 years ago and who since then found a job, paid taxes and so on, a “law breaker” who needs to be punished? That is a stretch.

A punitive approach will not do

But the purists think otherwise. Some in the past had introduced a legalization scenario whereby all the illegals will go back to their country of origin, apply at a US Consulate, take a number, way at the end of the immigration line, pay a hefty fine and then patiently wait for their turn to be called in. This may look right in principle; but it is totally unworkable. If these were just a few hundred people, it might be done. But for more than 10-12 million people? Imagine administering all this. And imagine the incredible and completely unnecessary disruption for all those families. If someone is working, and most of them are, how will they deal with that? Just take a few months, or may be a few years leave and relocate elsewhere, where they have not lived for years or even decades?


So, legalization will have to be an amnesty, in fact, if not in name. And we need to do this, and do it fast, because it is intolerable in a modern society to have millions of people forced to live in the shadow, because of their status. Sure, make people pay a processing fee, whatever, as long as it is realistic, based on their ability to pay. But that will be that.

And, going forward….?

Of course, assuming success of this massive legalization process, going forward we have to create truly secure borders. Many assert that unless we militarize our borders, the draw of jobs from rich America will continue to be irresistible and soon enough we shall be faced with another wave of illegals. Besides, as we go ahead with an amnesty, other would-be illegals will take comfort on the historic rule whereby, once their numbers grow and this becomes once more a political issue, then Washington will cave in once more and will legalize everybody.

Guest workers programs

To some extent, this danger is real, and thus we have to improve border security. But I assume that it will be a lot easier to have secure borders once we have put in place a guest workers program, (more on this below), tailored for seasonal workers and those who come only for work; not because they would like to relocate. Right now, many of these people seeking only economic opportunity are forced to be illegal immigrants because they cannot move back and forth in the light of day. If we legalize and properly manage this seasonal workers flow, this would put a stop to their need to try and cross the border illegally.

Some basic stipulations: loyalty to America and learn English

If we managed to do all this, (let me dream we can), on a couple of absolutely essential issues, though, we have a right to be strict. To all who want to be legalized:

1) “If you want to be part of America, you have to know and show respect for America’s rules. You have to understand and sincerely embrace what this society is about, its core values, how it works. This is not too much to ask. Yes, people should have a minimum of proficiency in American history and civics”.

2) “And you should speak English. Yes; “English“. By default, or by whatever, the English language is the historically dominant language of the US and it is the common language that unites this country. All of those who want to make America their home should have a modicum of proficiency in English, so that they can communicate without any problem with everybody else”.

Speaking English and maintaining cultural identity are not contradictory goals

Let me be clear. All people are and should be free to keep, teach ad cultivate their native languages and use them as much as they want. If they and their kids are bilingual or trilingual, it is great. But one of the languages they speak, read and write reasonably fluently should be English. This is our American national language. It is indispensable to have it and maintain it as a vehicle for all communications and transactions, so that we have a communication medium shared by all.

The idea that millions of people can live here but only within the confines of linguistic and ethnic enclaves, because lack of English prevents them from interacting with the wider society, is really bad. It is bad for them, as it restricts opportunity, and it is bad for America because of the obvious risk of becoming a fragmented society. The strength of America is and should be that new comers can retain their linguistic, religious and cultural identity, while they fully embrace the values and language of the United States. America is a country; not just a place to stay.

More on guest workers

Alright. This should deal with all of those who want a path to citizenship. But, as mentioned above, there are many here who do not seek citizenship, but only economic opportunity. Well, all those who belong to this category should be eligible to receive perfectly legal, easy to obtain and renew guest worker visas. The only criteria for eligibility should be a match between the work they want to perform and the demand for such jobs in America. People enrolled in a future guest workers program should be free to come and go legally.

Find the courage to get this done

Tall order, right? Yes, it is. But we have to find the courage to get this done. This courageous and humane action would reestablish America’s credentials as a country that treats people fairly and that welcomes immigrants, provided they follow laws that should be easy to understand.


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