"It is time for an immigration policy that permits temporary guest workers to fill jobs Americans will not take, that rejects amnesty, that tells us who is entering and leaving our country and that closes the border to drug dealers and terrorists."
Those words, uttered by former President George W. Bush, hit at the heart of why Arizona's recently signed anti-immigrant law will ultimately be an exercise in futility and a complete failure to reduce undocumented immigration and border violence. Much has been written about the possible negative effects of the Arizona law: loss of liberty by law-abiding U.S. citizens who may now be asked by government to provide “papers, please,” additional unfunded state mandates on local law enforcement that will reduce their effectiveness in fighting crime, and increased discrimination against Latinos or other ethnic minorities. Instead of debating those issues and assessing what harm the Arizona bill might do, it is important to focus instead on the failure of the Arizona law because of what it does not do. The Arizona law misses the mark because it fails to address the underlying problems with our broken borders.
First, the Arizona law does not and cannot create an effective and legal system to match willing workers and willing employers. While the immigration debate in our country frequently devolves into emotional slogans and inflammatory rhetoric, the causes of immigration are quite simple. If we stop demagoguing “illegals” and understand immigration as transnational labor flows driven by host-country employment, then solutions become attainable. Until we align our immigration system with U.S. labor needs in a legal framework, we will continue to see an increase in undocumented workers. Arizona-like enforcement-only laws will have little to no impact on this larger macroeconomic dynamic. In fact, despite already having among the toughest anti-immigrant state laws on the books, USA Today, citing U.S. Border Patrol statistics, reported this week that Arizona is "the only border state where illegal crossings are on the rise.”
Second, the Arizona law does nothing to address the insatiable appetite for drugs in the U.S. that funds and arms murderous drug cartels and corrupts and destabilizes the Mexican government. Immigrant housekeepers, gardeners, cooks, nannies, construction workers and farmers working throughout the U.S. cannot be blamed for this brand of border violence. We need to look at ourselves as a responsible link in a vicious and destructive cycle. We buy the drugs. The money goes to the cartels. The cartels buy our guns with our money. The cartels buy government officials (on both sides of the border) with our money. The cartels murder thousands of people in Mexico (and some in the U.S.) using our guns and our money. The Arizona law will not stop border violence because it does nothing to address this cycle.
Third, the Arizona law does not and cannot resolve the situation of the 10 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. by allowing them to earn their way to legal status. During recent legislative sessions, members of the Texas Association of Business and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus — not conventional political allies under normal circumstances — found common ground by identifying several principles that each group supported as a step to comprehensive immigration reform. Those principles outlined an earned path to legal status that includes a criminal background check, learning basic English and American civics, payment of any fines for unlawful entry, and payment of any back taxes. After meeting those requirements, an immigrant would get in line with other would-be citizens.
Elected and business leaders who support comprehensive immigration reform realize that patchwork and piecemeal approaches will continue to fail. We have seen the negative effects of Arizona-like initiatives here in Texas. In the district I represent, the town of Farmers Branch elected to pass a particularly misguided anti-immigrant ordinance back in 2007 that was successful only in dividing a community, tarnishing the town’s image and costing nearly $5 million in attorneys' fees.
Arizona might be fortunate that the anti-immigrant law is destined to fail. If all the undocumented workers and their families in Arizona are stopped, identified and deported, the negative economic impact of such actions would worsen an already deep deficit that has forced the state to raise sales taxes. The Perryman Group has estimated that if all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Arizona, the state would lose $26.4 billion in economic activity and approximately 140,324 jobs.
Like Arizona, Texas will face a challenging budget deficit in 2011. As legislators, we should devote every second of our time and every ounce of our effort next session to ensure that we balance the budget in a thoughtful and responsible manner. And we should demand the same from our Texas congressional delegation and call for, as Bush did, thoughtful and responsible comprehensive immigration reform.
State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, represents District 103 in the Texas House.