EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an open letter to the governor of Arizona. Dear Gov. Jan Brewer, against common sense and the American values of fair play, you signed the anti-illegal immigrant legislation passed by your state politicians who prey on the weak for political gain (illegal immigrants don't vote!). The Arizona legislation making it a crime to be an illegal immigrant in the state is reprehensible, as it reminds one of the Supreme Court's Jim Crow decision in the 19th century.
It is a slippery slope when we let police officers arrest an individual over "reasonable suspicion" that a person is in the U.S. illegally and, when asked, cannot produce papers showing legal status. This is racial profiling at its worst.
The police unions don't want this power, but the chiefs and sheriffs who are up for re-election this year in Arizona promote this shameful legislation along with politicians. Even Sen. John McCain has succumbed to this extremism because he is up for reelection.
This is the same McCain who was a co-sponsor in 2007 of the bipartisan U.S. Senate immigration reform bill. If it had passed the House, McCain's co-sponsorship of this long-overdue legislation, along with Sen. Ted Kennedy, would have corrected the illegal problem. The extremists in the House defeated the bill even though the Republican Party National Committee and President Bush took to the pulpits for immigration reform. If passed, it would have given 12 million undocumented workers legal status (not amnesty) to live and work in the U.S., while at the same it would have punished employers for hiring such workers.
How did Arizona come to exemplify the worst of the anti-illegal lobby in the U.S.? This loud, xenophobic group of folks gained recognition and power on this issue back in 1994 in California when the gubernatorial election was accompanied by a referendum to deny illegal immigrants access to health benefits. Even though the State Supreme Court later ruled the outcome of the vote unconstitutional, because immigration issues were a federal prerogative, the new governor had already won the election on this issue alone.
Empowered as a result, the anti-immigration movement grew louder, demonstrated more often, and exploited the Internet, flooding congressional offices with warnings that if politicians supported immigration reform, they would lose significant votes. The issue of illegal immigrants is basically driven by 20% of the voters, but that 20% represents voting power especially in marginal districts. Ultimately, the reason we have this huge issue confronting us, and now turning uglier, is because successive congresses have failed to reform the legal immigration system.
In short, the system is broken. Under legislation governed by quotas, legal immigrants can legally satisfy all the requirements of the law and then have to wait years for visas to live and work here. Moreover, the system during World War II that allowed Mexican workers to enter the United States on a temporary basis to pick crops and do jobs for which there was a labor shortage ended after the war because of unions arguing that the returning soldiers needed jobs.
Yes, many arguments underlying the anti-immigration movement have to be addressed: "Why give illegal immigrants health benefits and their children school opportunities when they don't comply with immigration rules and break the law?"
Answer: Illegal immigrants perform labor that many Americans won't do: pick crops, work in restaurants, hotels and in construction for low wages, and perform menial services. Undocumented workers work hard, don't want to hurt anyone, will do any job needed.
In the end, the fact cannot be ignored that many undocumented persons are already working here, have families, have established a presence over the years and are good people. Most think tanks, especially universities, have researched the arguments on both sides and have concluded that illegal immigrants, on balance, if given temporary work status, would add net contributions to the country; they would not take jobs away from Americans, and, if illegal immigrants got work permits (not amnesty) and pay taxes, the country would receive much greater tax revenues for social security and Medicare.
Reform is win-win.