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Arizona's New Immigration Law

May 1, 2010

Everyone is ranting about the new Arizona immigration law, and so I thought I would weigh in on it.

Yes, I agree that illegal immigration is a major problem.

But, no, I don't think this law is the right way to go about it.

Now, hear me out.

The problem of illegal immigration boils down to one of supply and demand. As long as there is a demand, there will always be a steady stream of demand.

Think about it - you're a poor Mexican fighting to feed your family. You decide to hop the fence to the United States. What is the worst thing that can happen to you if you get caught - you get shipped back or you get to spend some time in prison - where you can learn English, a skill, watch cable TV, and get regular meals? So, what's the downside if you get caught? Sounds like a win-win either way!

But here's the thing: what if when you got to the United States, there was no possibility of you finding employment? You'd hang out for a few days and then return home. Maybe after a few of your friends went to the US risking their lives in the desert and rivers only to find that there was nothing more for them there than there is in Mexico, maybe you might think about staying in Mexico.

What we need to do is crack down - HARD - on people who employ illegal aliens. In every job I ever had, I had to show my passport or birth certificate to prove that I was allowed to work in the United States. Therefore, employers should be checking those papers, and right now, everyone is compelled to show them. You crack down on a couple of Wal-Marts, farmers, factories, and anyone else who hires illegal immigrants and put in jail those managers and HR personnel responsible for hiring illegal aliens, and you might find managers would be unwilling to make some extra bucks by hiring illegal workers.

In Arizona, though, the law is even more extreme, because you don't have to have committed a crime for the police to stop you. Put yourself in this situation: You're out a dinner one night. While you are gone, someone decides to break into your house and steal your valuables. An illegal alien witnesses the break-in. Now, will that alien call the police, knowing that if he does so and the cops show up, he'll be deported? Instead, that guy will look the other way and not report it, so as to save his own skin.

Additionally, a lot has been made of what illegal aliens look like. I have in my life only ever met one verifiable illegal alien, and that was in San Antonio. I'm sure you all know what she looked like: pale skin, blue eyes, brown hair, and said "aboot." That's right; the illegal alien I met was from Canada. She had come to the US with a work visa to work with one company. When that company laid her off, she immediately went to work for another company in the US - even though her visa was NOT valid for any other company, thus making her illegal to work here.

But there's another factor to this problem. In conjunction with Arizona's law, there is a candidate for governor of Alabama who is vowing to make English the official language of the state and end all programs to serve driver's license exams in other languages.

To understand my position on all of this, you need to understand a little about my family. My great grandparents emigrated here exactly one hundred years ago from the Ukraine although they were German. They settled in a community that was all German in North Dakota. My great-grandmother lived to be nearly one hundred years old, and in all that time, she never learned English. She spoke German at home and in town, and never had to bother learning English. Then in the nineteen-teens, during World War I, my family had to deal with the prejudices of being German, something they had to deal with again during the late thirties and forties. My grandfather told me about how he hid his German heritage, and hid when he called home so no one would know he was speaking German to his mother. In fact, growing up, I was told almost nothing of my German heritage, and instead my family emphasized my Norwegian heritage; the stigma of being German in the twentieth century remained long after World War II was over.

And thus lies my problem with so much of today's anti-immigration focus. I heard first hand my family's issues with the problems with trying to assimilate into a prejudiced American society. I remember my grandfather telling me of his fears that the Germans might be rounded up and placed in camps like the Japanese were. As I hear now similar requests being made into law - a law where the police can stop anyone randomly on the street and ask for proof of citizenship and take them to jail for not having it, I have to say it would be hypocritical of me to support such a measure.

If you want to achieve immigration reform, make laws stricter - really, really harsh - for anyone who hires illegal aliens. As I said, you put a couple of store managers or plant managers away for 20 years for hiring illegals, and maybe the message might get out that making an buck in labor costs isn't worth the risk in hiring illegals.

Then - and only then - will you see the illegal immigration epidemic come under control.

It's all about supply and demand.