Saturday, March 19, 2011

Immigration Policy

To: Governor Jan Brewer
RE: Immigration Policy

Immigration has and continues to be a salient issue in Arizona, with voters supporting tougher restrictions and controls on immigration, particularly illegal immigration. According to estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center, there are approximately 375,000 unauthorized immigrants in Arizona, this is about 5.8% of the states population; the unauthorized labor force is approximately 240,000 and accounts for 7.5% of the total labor force in Arizona. This data does not breakdown the geographic origin of these immigrants, though the national averages are: 60% Mexican, 20% Latin American, 11% Asian, 4% European, and 4% African. Though the debate focuses on immigration from south of the border, it is important to broaden our understanding of the issue and take into account those from other regions. In addition, the illegal population is not made up of only people who crossed the border illegally, there are more likely to be individuals who came here legally, but overstayed there visas.

The saliency of this issue in Arizona would seem to fit well into A&B’s characterization of the context within which immigration issues rise to the institutional agenda:”the government is under increasing pressure to restrict flows, especially in areas where immigrants are concentrated [read Latino’s], in times of economic contraction, where persistent unemployment is endemic, and in the face of growing fears about terrorism and national security.” (154). Arizona has also seen a rise in political entrepreneurs who are willing to curry political favor by using immigrants as scapegoats for all manner of social ills (A&B, 156), much as there counterparts in France, Italy, the Netherlands and other European nations. The current debate (especially in the aftermath of S.B. 1070) has degenerated into no more than a food fight between the right-wing racists and left-wing amnesty advocates, a sure fire recipe for half-baked and extreme measures, instead of reasoned comprehensive approaches to solve the issues at hand.

As A&B note: “Gaining control of immigration requires a challenging balancing act between encouraging immigration to meet rising demand for labor…and maintaining sufficient controls to respond to growing public anxiety about the connections between terrorism and immigration, high levels of illegal immigration, and perceived failure to effectively integrate immigrants already resident in their countries.” (152).This is clearly a tall order and beyond the jurisdiction of the state of Arizona. However, there are a number of proactive steps that can be taken to find solutions to the issue of illegal immigration. First, there clearly needs to be a pivot away from the focus on social factors for legal immigration (family reunification) and towards a more economic labor based approach (ala Japan). With this in mind, your office should work to clearly identify the work-force needs of the states farmers, businesses et cetera, quantifying these labor needs would then be used as a launching point to lobby the federal government for more expedited administrative procedures to recruit, attract and retain foreign workers (where and when necessary). Your office could also aid businesses in navigating the maze of Federal immigration policy, thus, ensuring that they do not run fowl of these regulations, and can take full advantage of federal programs for attracting foreign workers.

Concerning the existing illegal population, and control of the borders to limit new migration, it is clearly that a more cooperative relationship with the federal government is warranted. Efforts to highlight the need for more border patrol, as well as, attempts to work with customs and enforcement agents are welcome and warranted. However, the passage of legal mandates (read S.B. 1070) that are likely to fail constitutional muster is unfortunate and an unnecessary usurpation of federal authority. All legal mandates or policies on immigration should be done within the law and with federal consultation; contrary steps cause confusion and are likely to result in unnecessarily acrimonious intergovernmental relations. Witness the case of France and its deportation of Roma in contravention of EU tenets. Harmonious state-federal relations are crucial in this policy arena.

With your new found bona fides on the immigration issue, you should also be on the forefront of agitating for a more comprehensive and complete overhaul of the immigration system. This includes the pivot to a more labor based philosophy; demanding a more streamlined and efficient immigration process especially for workers; tighter controls at entry points, but also a regularization of existing immigrants who have been law abiding (as France and Italy have done in the past). And working together with other states and Latin American countries to resolve some of the long standing push factors that encourage migration to America, as Rose notes: “When problems are intermestic, the success of a national programme depends not only o what national [and state] policymakers decide, but also on what foreigners do. In such circumstances, national [and state] governments need to pay attention to what other countries do.” (Rose, 4)

A final word on comity is necessary, clearly there has been an over exaggerations of the impact immigrants have had on the state. They are not all rampant drug dealers’ intent on beheading as many Arizonans as they can, most are law abiding individuals who only want to make a better life for themselves and their families. Using immigrants as fodder for electoral success is callous and wanton disregard of human dignity. Lower the rhetoric and work toward sane, reasoned and collaborative efforts to solving the illegal immigration issue.


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