Thursday, 29 April 2010

But Seriously...

Daniel Larison has an uncharacteristically unpersuasive post up right now regarding the new Arizona law that so many people - myself very much included - have been pouring scorn upon. Just a few points I'd like to make:
For decades, the federal government has failed the border states, and the border states have been left to pick up the tab for an incredibly poor regulated immigration system. In the absence of effective federal enforcement, border states have tried, mostly in vain, to cope with the consequences of mass immigration.
I have no doubt that this is true, but it is far from clear to me that it is in any way relevant. The fact that border control is a) difficult, b) expensive and c) politically difficult proves nothing beyond the fact that a solution will be hard to find. It does not follow that any solution suggested should be free from criticism or even condemnation. We turn once again to our Yes, Prime Minister and Sir Humphrey's appraisal of "Politician's Logic", "Something must be done, this is something, therefore we must do it." That is not Larison's argument, of course, but since it is immediately obvious that there are any number of alternative suggestions for combating illegal immigration that Larison would vehemently oppose, the claim that critics are engaging in "Brownian contempt" simply because they prefer no action to bad action seems like a fairly major stretch.

There is a skein of truth in Larison's case, of course. After spending months lambasting the Republicans for screaming about how terrible the Democratic HCR plan was whilst refusing to offer one of their own, it would be hypocritical of me not to accept that it is hard to take criticism from those who could be offering their own alternatives but are flatly refusing to address the problem. In this particular case, though, what makes that approach difficult is that Arizona has chosen to deal with insufficient funding to police its border not by increasing taxes but by creating a new, deeply draconian law and then demanding federal funds to help enforce it. They need 15 000 new officers to enforce this thing, and they don't have the money to do it. In other words, in order to deal with a situation for which they lack the money (read: are unwilling to generate the money) necessary to resolve it (or, to be fair, make it somewhat less of a catastrophe), they've created a new situation for which the lack the money necessary to resolve it.

As mentioned yesterday, it's the constant chant coming out of Arizona that government needs to be small and as powerless as possible (Arizona receives more money from the federal government than it pays in federal taxes, by the way) that rankles here. Along with many other red states, Arizona is one of the reasons why the government can't spend more on immigration control in the first place. They're not willing to help themselves out on the state level, so they're trying a new way to get the rest of the country to bail them out. Forgive me if I'm not sold on the idea that this is particularly comparable to Gordon Brown slapping a voter down for not being tolerant enough by his lights.
So Gerson believes it is “dreadful” that law enforcement officers would run a check on the immigration status of someone already stopped for some other reason. York goes on to make clear that there would be no check on immigration status if the person has a valid driver’s license...
I'm wondering whether part of this is simple cultural bias on my part, because I know plenty of other countries require anyone driving must have their license with them, but are we really comfortable with the idea that not doing so should be an arrestable offence? In circumstances where we can assume with reasonable confidence that said arrests will only take place when the perpetrator is Hispanic? There are already people like County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik who are convinced the law can't possibly work without mandatory racial profiling, which is a tremendous legal headache even if you side-step the morality involved.

I'm also somewhat surprised at Larison's faith in Arizona cops. I am most certainly not a reflexive police-hater - I've had both friends and family serve within their ranks - but when you hire 15 000 new guys and tell them their job is to start weeding out illegal immigrants, it doesn't take the world's most cynical mind to start wondering about how much emphasis is actually going to be put on the "reasonable" in "reasonable suspicion".
Unless there is another undesirable provision that critics of the law have failed to mention, it would seem that the only people who have reason to complain about this law are those who are here illegally and those who believe that immigration laws should simply not be enforced.
Well, sure. Conditional on it being OK to essentially tell 30% of Arizona's population they can now be arrested for the crime of driving with brown skin and no license, and under the entirely reasonable assumption that Arizona's police forces are exclusively populated by coldly rational automo-cops, I can't see anyone else having a problem at all. And it certainly isn't like anyone could hold that immigration laws are a good idea in general without supporting every single one of them, is it?

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