Across the country, states and localities are grappling with the problem of illegal immigration, and scores of communities are considering the role their police department might play in helping the federal government enforce immigration laws.
Since 9/11 the watchword in the debate over immigration reform has been “security.” As a result, most policymakers and pundits now approach the subject of immigration largely from a law-enforcement perspective. However, the current border-enforcement strategy, which tends to lump together terrorists and undocumented jobseekers from abroad as groups to be kept out, ignores the causes of undocumented immigration and fuels the expansion of the people-smuggling networks through which a foreign terrorist might enter the country.
I do a daily radio talk show on Radio Campesina in Phoenix and, clearly, since the November elections callers are once more allowing themselves to dream of the day their hard, hidden existence comes to an end. Their dreams are tentative and cautious, but nonetheless hope has been resurrected. Yet in Arizona hope is interspersed with anger. Four anti-immigrant referendums passed overwhelmingly, one of which, Proposition 300, will impose steep tuition increases for undocumented community-college and university students. Most legal observers believe it is constitutional. The only resolution lies now in the hands of Congress. Delay in passing comprehensive immigration reform, or at the very least the DREAM Act (which would provide a path to lawful permanent residence for hundreds of thousands of undocumented high-school graduates), will have immediate and tragic consequences for thousands of Latino kids in Arizona.
Access to an independent judiciary with the power to hold the government accountable in its dealings with individuals is a founding principle of the United States. In contrast, imagine a system where there is no access to independent judgment; where, instead, the referee works for the opposing team. The House of Representatives took a step away from this founding principle by passing the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act (H.R. 4437) on December 16, 2005. A provision of the bill would erode access to independent judgment by severely restricting access to the federal courts for individuals in removal (deportation) proceedings. This provision is part of a long string of efforts by proponents of restrictive immigration policies to limit the jurisdiction of the federal courts over immigration cases.
Benjamin Johnson, Director of the Immigration Policy Center, discusses the futility of an enforcement-only approach to immigration reform and the need for a more comprehensive strategy to deal with the problem of undocumented immigration. In this new "Perspective," he argues that immigration cannot be treated simply as a law-enforcement issue. Rather, the United States must begin managing immigration as a national resource.
The U.S. government's efforts to stem undocumented immigration by fortifying the U.S.-Mexico border have increased the profitability of the people-smuggling business and fostered greater sophistication in the smuggling networks through which a foreign terrorist might enter the country. U.S. national security would be better served if undocumented labor migration were taken out of the border-security equation by reforming the U.S. immigration system to accommodate U.S. labor demand.