Arizona's innovative "show me your papers, noncitizen!" approach to immigration reform is either a first-of-its-kind call of America's conservative wild or a semi-legitimate cri de coeur of frustration as anarchy and human trafficking continue to spill over the Mexican border. Ultimately it hardly matters because of a couple of issues the new law doesn't bother to address. Sadly, though the Arizona law has propelled new talk of accelerating comprehensive immigration reform, that federal effort will likewise not deal with the same couple of issues that are now perhaps the largest drivers of paperless immigration into the United States.
The Arizona law will be hard on Hispanics, legal or otherwise, within Arizona and it's already persuading many of the state's low-wage workforce to seek more hospitable one-time Mexican territories to call home. That may clear Home Depot parking lots in the vicinity of Phoenix of cheap labor that had been helping to prop up the state's economy. What it, of course, does not begin to do is get to the complicated heart of the matter on immigration from the South. Two major drivers of southern migration flows now are the chaos and violence engendered by the drug trade and the region's relentless economic depression which, nearly 20 years after NAFTA promised a better life for all North Americans, i.e., including the good people of Mexico, continues to force hungry people to seek their daily bread and a better future across the border.
The United States has already spent billions on improving its border patrol and border control technology and it, thankfully, remains deeply ambivalent about a complete militarization of its southern border. We are not after all trying to keep out an invasion force, but the contemporary tempest tossed that we used to welcome, at least when they came from more Europeanish parts of, well, Europe. We can pretend that a militarized border is aimed at keeping the threat of Islamic extremists from crossing over, but it's pretty clear by now those folks are just as likely to appear among homegrown Americans or else happy to cross our relatively open northern border or to simply fly in on tourist visas at eastern airports, the same way as many as 40 percent of undocumented migrants already enter the country.
So if it's not really absolute security we're concerned about, and we're actually sincere about resolving the problem of undocumented immigration, and if it's true that, as Arizonans say, the federal government is falling down on the job, what should the new Arizona law have included? How about a vigorous call for a statewide effort to decriminalize and medicalize America's drug problem so that declining U.S. demand for drugs allows Mexico the breathing room it needs to reconstitute its increasingly fragile republic. How about the north realistically deal with its drug problem so the south can begin to do the same? Throw in a blueprint for a real economic community that would promote social and economic development for all member states such that folks in the south might be able to consider the states of their birth as comparably promising places to build their lives and Arizona's new immigration law, instead of being a gold mine for late night parody, could be the model for a rational, national plan of truly comprehensive immigration reform.