Arizona Law Misses Point

I say, “Cut the crap.”  Stop playing games.  This is serious business.

In the midst of economic woes, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed last month a new immigration law allowing officers to stop and detain those who are suspected of not being in the country legally.  This allows officers to racially profile and effectively target those who seem to be of Hispanic descent.

When this law goes into effect in July, officers will be able to charge those without documents with a crime. However, criminalizing undocumented immigrants who aren’t perpetrating the most heinous of crimes in this country is absolutely ridiculous — the standard immigrant migrates here to work, not to spill citizen blood or rob banks.

But someone might argue, “Those pesky illegal immigrants are taking our jobs!”  And perhaps it is exactly this type of anger and blame that has afforded Governor Brewer the confidence to sign into law that which would inevitably be a contentious act — she wouldn’t have done so without knowledge of major support. Though this move on the Governor’s part might temporarily appease the scapegoat-seeking sensibility of that pitchfork-wielding portion of Arizona, it is highly unlikely that this law will undo what the housing market crash has done. Stopping  immigrants from working is no solution to the nation’s economic crisis.

As this country undergoes economic recovery, most voters will agree that attention needs to be directed to definitively problematic areas. Illegal immigration is certainly an issue, and perhaps some will argue that this is a problem that adds significantly to the economic woes of this country, but will a halt of illegal immigration effect real change? Will Arizona be the first state to return to those blissful debt-loving days before the market collapsed?

Consider our standard illegal immigrant.  First of all, why is he or she here?  He or she is here to find opportunities for a better quality of life. Certainly, this illegal immigrant will find some kind of work, most likely paying only the minimum wage, and probably will get away with not paying income taxes. But this immigrant will spend money on food, groceries, and merchandise here in the United States, putting some of that money back into the economy.

Yes, he or she will also have access to some state medical insurance programs, but I’ve seen more citizens take advantage of our nation’s safety nets then illegal immigrants. So who is the real criminal here? The immigrant who actually comes here to find a low-paying job (sometimes two), or the citizen, who sits at home and collects unemployment waiting for a job opportunity “worthy” of his or her merits?

For example, I know a fellow who recently got out of prison after a six-year sentence. He made a plea deal with the District Attorney, agreeing to testify against three other fellows in a murder trial for a guaranteed sentence of six years; his companions in this murder trial, those against whom he testified, all got life sentences (one sits on death row at this very moment). Before the trial, this young man was a gangbanging, drug-abusing citizen of the United States of America. Injured by a gunshot in his leg early in life, he was collecting around $2,000 in disability from the state every month. This was in the late 1990s.  What did this fellow use this “hard-earned” money on, you might ask?  Drugs.  His drug-addled girlfriend.  Oh, and he had no job.

You might say the system is the problem, like the Tea Party folks are claiming: “Too much government interference!  Too many taxes!”  People get angry because they think these taxes are going to fund illegal immigrants and their children but in fact, more citizens are taking advantage of the state than illegal immigrants. Hopefully, Governor Jan Brewer’s decision to sign the Arizona Immigration Law won’t start a trend, but I hope it will set an example; with its ineffectiveness in bolstering Arizona’s economy this year and next, I hope we’ll all realize some of us have been going about “fixing” the nation’s problems in the wrong way.

Yvonne Bang is a graduate student in literary journalism. She can be reached at bangy@uci.edu.