Start with the basics: Can we agree we have an immigration problem? Most of us can also agree that it's a difficult problem. That's why it hasn't been solved. And it's got several components that "build a bigger fence" or "just enforce the law" don't solve.
Start with the basics: Can we agree we have an immigration problem?
Most of us can also agree that it's a difficult problem. That's why it hasn't been solved. And it's got several components that "build a bigger fence" or "just enforce the law" don't solve.
We've got a porous border no wall can seal. If they can't come in on foot, they'll come in by boat, like thousands of illegal Asian immigrants have. Whether you're smuggling drugs or people, if there's money to be made doing it, smugglers will find a way.
But even if we could stop the incoming flood, we've got 11 million illegal immigrants already here. George Will estimates that shipping them all out of the country would take 200,000 buses in a bumper-to-bumper convoy 1,700 miles long.
What makes the problem truly complicated is that millions of those people are real American assets. Packing them onto the buses headed south would hurt the country more than help it. They work hard, learn English, start businesses and dream of doing great things. Some came here young, against their will, and are American in all but the paperwork.
Gustavo Rezende was one of those.
"Goose," as his friends at Marlborough (Mass.) High School called him, was just 9 years old when his parents brought him from Brazil. He was a popular kid, an artist who had dreamed of joining the Army after high school.
"All the time he said, 'This is my country. I love this country,"' his mother told a Daily News reporter.
But you can't enlist in the Army if you don't have a green card, so Goose worked in food services at New England Sports Center. He had to drive to get to work and he got caught driving without a license. That costs you $350 a shot for court costs ("a cash cow for the state," a local cop tells me). But Goose worried about something worse: being deported from the country he loves to a country he barely remembered.
Arizona's desperate new law doesn't begin to separate the immigrants worth keeping from those who should be thrown back. It does the opposite, requiring local police to check the IDs of anyone they reasonably suspect might be in this country illegally.
Forget about the potential racial profiling when police pull someone people over. What happens when people start dropping dimes on their neighbors? Suddenly the cops are required to question the guys outside Home Depot looking for work, or the family someone thinks plays Mexican music too loud late at night.
The law also specifically empowers people to sue local police departments, demanding they enforce the immigration law. It's easy to imagine an anti-immigrant group asking a judge to order a police chief to follow up those phoned-in tips.
The police I know want to chase rapists, drug dealers and thieves. Maybe the Arizona law will give them new authority they can use to nail the bad guys. But it looks like the state is forcing them to change their priorities, to go after the women changing the sheets at the hotels and the men working in food service at the local sports center. Talk about unfunded mandates.
And just about everyone agrees that the Arizona law will make it harder for police to bust the rapists, drug dealers and thieves who prey on the immigrant community. If your papers aren't in order, you aren't going to confide in the police, no matter how serious the threat.
My preference is for laws that get tougher on those who hire undocumented workers, but that's another column and another Arizona law. Several years ago, Gov. Janet Napolitano signed a law stiffening penalties on Arizona employers. But it's been challenged in court by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has long hid behind the anti-amnesty crowd while thwarting immigration reform efforts it sees as a threat to the supply of cheap labor.
As I said, immigration is a complicated and difficult problem, in Arizona and everywhere else. It can't be solved by tackling just one aspect of it. Pulling on a single thread, as the Arizona law tries to do, will just make the fabric unravel more quickly.
For Goose Rezende, it's already too late to solve the problem. Despondent over the limits on his future, fearful he'd be deported, he committed suicide in March, hanging himself from a tree near the Marlborough District Court. He was 19. More than 1,000 people came to his wake.
Suicide, of course, is never an answer. Gustavo Rezende's life and death tells us something about immigration that ought to be part of that debate.
By all means, fix the borders. Enforce the law at the workplace, to cut off the jobs that attract more immigrants than America can handle. Untangle the red tape that makes legal immigration so difficult. But there are more Goose Rezendes out there. They deserve better from a country they didn't choose, but that they've come to love.
Rick Holmes, opinion editor of the MetroWest Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.