Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer just signed a bill requiring local law
enforcement agencies to get in the business of stopping people they
think might have crossed the border illegally. They can ask anyone they
suspect of being an illegal alien and demand that they produce papers.
If they can’t, they haul them in. They don’t have to be committing a
crime or acting suspiciously, they just have to trigger something in
the mind of the officer. Usually what triggers immigration stops is a
combination of brown skin, black hair and a Mexican accent.
For years it has been a matter of settled law that only trained
immigration agents, who work for the federal government, can stop
people on suspicion of immigration violations. Local police can call
immigration authorities to check the status of someone they have
detained for another crime, but to haul you in for an immigration
violation is beyond their competence and mandate. It’s also an
invitation to exercise their racial biases.
No walls, no laws (other than the laws of economics) will stop, for
any period of time, the flow of people over our southern border.
Neither of the political parties has a “solution” to the “problem.”
Like the front we watch moving forward on the Weather Channel, like a
chemical reaction, like people choosing their lane at the supermarket,
immigrants will flow from an area of high pressure to an area of low
pressure. People don’t risk their lives crossing the Sonoran Desert
because they love our weather: They come here for the jobs. Even in
recessionary times, we have more work, and it pays better.
If we’re honest we will recognize that when work is plentiful, we
tend to look the other way. We build up a lot of myths about illegal
immigrants. They don’t pay taxes (they do). They commit crimes (no more
than the rest of us). They mooch off welfare (very rarely). They take
our jobs. That one is true.
That’s because immigrants do many of the jobs we don’t want to do.
You don’t have to visit a poultry plant in Arkansas or a cotton gin in
the Arizona desert (believe me, it’s not pretty) to see the kind of
work we leave to our brothers and sisters from the south. Just ask an
onion farmer in Oswego County. Even in these times, there are jobs we
simply won’t do, and unless we’re going to give up lettuce, and onions,
and milk, and having babies, and aging parents, we’re part of the
system that keeps immigrants coming—any way they can.
One interesting side note: Illegal immigrants help out our elders in
more than one way. In addition to constituting a sizable chunk of the
home health aide work force, undocumented workers contribute to Social
Security with deductions from every paycheck, although most of them
never collect those benefits. Studies show that illegal workers make a
net contribution of up to $7 billion a year to the Social Security
The many grains of sand that could unite to curb illegal
immigration—if we wanted to—are you, and me, and everyone else who
employs, directly or indirectly, people who are in this country without
the benefit of having passed through a border checkpoint. (The actual
crime most are charged with is EWI, entry without inspection).
So let’s stop hiring them. Sounds easy, but if we do, then who will
care for the babies and the old people? Who will cut the grass in our
pricey developments? If you cut your own grass and don’t have a nanny,
ask yourself this: Who picked the lettuce that sits astride your
cheeseburger? Who milked the cow that gave the milk that you put in
your cereal this morning? Who picked the onions you chopped into that
guacamole you devoured in front of the Yankees game last night?
If we don’t answer those questions honestly, it’s hard to imagine
how we can come to terms with our immigration dilemma. If we don’t get
honest about our dependence on immigrant labor, we’re just sticking our
heads in the sand.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times.