Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Immigration laws require reform

This first published January 3, 2008 in the Henderson Home News, a Community Newspapers of Nevada publication.

MEADVIEW, Ariz. – It is the day after Christmas, and because of holiday deadlines, I find myself writing the first column of 2008. Although it is a week before my topic of this column actually begins to play itself out, what a perfect time to get the fireworks going. What better topic to light things up than immigration?

The New York Times crafted an interesting editorial Dec. 18, titled “Blazing Arizona” outlining possible complications of Arizona’s Fair and Legal Employment Act, a two-strike law, suspending a business’s license on the first offense and revoking it on the second for knowingly employing undocumented workers.

The Times editorial reinforces what I have been saying for the past two years about immigration reform.

“We have always said that workplace laws should be enforced vigorously – as part of a comprehensive, nationwide immigration system that doesn’t just punish, but tries to actually solve the problems that foster and sustain the breaking of immigration laws. The boosters of the Arizona law, including the Minutemen border vigilantes who have made 'January First!’ an anti-immigrant rallying cry, have a much narrower goal: the biggest purge of illegal immigrants in the Southwest since the federal government’s Operation Wetback in 1954”, the Times said.

If for just a moment the American public could set aside their fear and anger to simply evaluate the economics involved in immigration – illegal or legal for that matter – they may reconsider their positions on it. Most of us are either unaware or just don’t care about how undocumented workers or illegal immigrants have become integral weaves in the fabric of the U.S. economy.

The Times points out what could be in store for Arizona. “If that happens,
the immigrants will take a big chunk of Arizona’s growth and economic
vitality with them – and not necessarily back across the international

The collateral damage will be severe, as citizens and legal immigrants are also thrown out of work, as businesses struggle to find workers in a state with a 3.3 percent unemployment rate and as sleazy employers move more workers off the books, the better to abuse and exploit them. And the national problem of undocumented immigration will be no closer to a

“There are many compassion-and-common-sense criticisms of Arizona’s Fair and Legal Employment Act: stories about families torn apart, breadwinners deported and citizen children on public assistance. They make little headway with the law-and-order crowd. Nor does the fact that many hard-line defenders of workplace enforcement show a lopsided devotion to federal laws; they seldom complain when employers abuse undocumented immigrants and steal their wages, even though those violations worsen job conditions and pay for American workers, too.”

Harsh words for Arizona employers, but let’s not poke a stick in the eye of the Grand Canyon State, because so many employers in the Silver State are just as guilty.
With the failure of Congress to pass legitimate immigration reform, the decline in the number of American workers because of retirement and an aging population, the U.S. economy is facing great economic hardships due to worker shortages.

Then again, perhaps this is just an unnecessary concern, given so many American jobs being outsourced to other countries, the U.S. dependency on cheap goods from China and the exploitation of developing countries. Let’s pile on the concern by kicking 12 million undocumented workers out of the country, and don’t forget millions of American children who would be separated from their parents.

Yes, American children born in this country with all of its undeniable rights under the law. Do you really think undocumented immigrants are going to haul their legitimate American children back over the border and overseas?

This appears to be a Catch-22, damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t situation that should be addressed with compassion and dignity while protecting an already shaky economy.
By the time you read this column, whatever is going to happen here in Arizona will already be taking shape and could very well grade the path for future immigration and the U.S. economy.

The Times editorial ended with a thought-provoking statement: “As Arizona exacts its punishment on the undocumented workers who have made it so prosperous, it runs the risk of proving itself tough but not smart.” Even though a majority of the New York Times editorial is here, I suggest you take some time to read it in its entirety.

Instead of “Blazing Arizona” we could end up “Raising Arizona.” Ah, nothing like starting the new year off with a bang.

Tim O’Callaghan, co-publisher of the News, can be reached at 990-2656 or