Why Arizona Makes Real Immigration Reform Possible

The nation needs a new immigration policy. In a way, pro-immigrant advocates may owe Arizona a vote of thanks. Because of that state’s recent attempt to create new policy on its own, the unexpected positive benefit is that conditions are now favorable to confronting this problem.

This attempt to develop an autonomous immigration policy has led to two major positive outcomes. Most significantly, it resulted in a federal court decision affirming that immigration policy was a federal responsibility beyond the purview of state legislatures. Consequently, whatever reforms are enacted will be the result of Congress fully engaging the issues, and this will surely yield better results than those generated by state and local decision makers who too easily become hostage to parochial hysteria. The second unexpected benefit of Arizona’s effort is that it intensified the public’s opposition to current immigration policy.

Until now, Congress has preferred ignoring what is indisputably a failed policy over trying to amend it because of the fear of the firestorm that any proposed change would likely create. By creating an environment that may make pursuing reform inevitable, Arizona’s anti-immigration initiative has in effect cajoled Congress into developing a new and improved policy to replace our current bankrupt approach.

To achieve a meaningful reform the paramount challenge is developing a legal framework to manage immigration. Virtually all groups including Latinos support finding a way to have immigrant-dependent employers meet their labor force needs while putting an end to the anti-immigrant discrimination and racism that characterize Arizona’s effort. A new body of law that defines how to increase legal immigration while simultaneously reducing the number of unauthorized immigrants would diminish the role traffickers and coyotes, the principal purveyors of border violence, play in facilitating unauthorized immigration. If reform efforts accomplish only this, they will have accomplished a great deal.

New laws must be designed to reduce the human and economic cost of employer raids. Immigrants should not have to falsify documents in order to work, and employers should not have to risk the sudden loss of their employees and the concomitant breakdown in their production. Immigrants also should not have to live with the constant fear of having a member of the family arrested and deported. Legalizing increased immigration, in short, reduces the problems and damage caused by the legal framework that currently governs immigration. As I will explain in my next post, this can be accomplished without increasing the size of the permanent immigrant population and without creating a new guest-worker program that could cause as many problems as it would resolve.

A new legal framework, in my judgment, is essential to the development of new immigration policy. The new framework must be comprehensive and avoid piece-meal solutions. A comprehensive approach will require decision makers to approach immigration policy as an intermestic issues – a problem that simultaneously involves domestic issues in more than one country and affects the relations those countries have with each other. We’re all in this together.