I recently received a rather bizarre e-mail pointing out that countries such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Cuba have robust border security and don’t tolerate people crossing their borders illegally. The e-mail went on to point out the generous (but inaccurately described) benefits the United States grants to people who enter our country illegally and implied that we would not have a problem with illegal entry if we just took a page from these less-than-democratic countries.  While I’d like to think this was left wing satire, I’m afraid it was a serious anti-immigrant solution to the problem.

Fortunately, we do not follow the lead of North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Cuba in our approach to immigration.  While we strive to make our borders more controlled, we would do well to remember why we have the problem in the first place – and that can be summed up as the American Dream.

We have all benefited from the American Dream, regardless of how long our ancestors have been in this country. People want to come to America; they dream of coming to America. The economic opportunity here has been, and still is, without equal. But even more important than economic opportunity are the freedoms and rights we enjoy as citizens. We, as citizens, have also learned the importance of affording fundamental rights to everyone in our country, and these rights extend even to undocumented migrants.

While there are many reasons to argue against the recent Arizona legislation on the grounds of bad law and worse public policy, what concerns me the most is that, with this law, Arizona dives headlong down the path of emulating the “model” countries named in the anti-immigrant e-mail.

We all agree we can do better on the border. I hope we all agree we can do better than the Arizona law.

  • Kathy T. Smith

    I disagree totally with your commentary. We have laws on the books that EVERYONE needs to follow if they want to enter our country. Just because it's easier for citizens of Mexico to “cross over the border” doesn't make it any less illegal. What about people from other countries who've waited for years and went through all the steps to gain entry? Is it fair to them when they've done it “the right and legal way”?

    Our law enforcement officers need to know who is in the country. US citizens deserve access to the social programs our tax dollars pay for, NOT illegal immigrants who don't even bother to gain legal status.

    I applaud Arizona and it's Governor for stepping up to secure their state's physical safety, when our own Federal
    Government would not.

    Please respond more specifically with what you think is actually “wrong” in the way Arizona is handling the situation. I, personally, don't get why there's such an uproar defending those who are breaking the law.

  • Randy Beardsworth

    Dear Kathy,

    Thank you for your comments. I think you and I are in strong agreement. There is a legal way to enter the country and we, as a nation, need to find the right way to ensure appropriate legal immigration and discourage illegal immigration.

    The point I was trying to make has more to do with the values we hold dear as Americans. These are the very values that have made us and continue to make us an attractive destination. High on this list of values is freedom of movement for our citizens. This law would give citizens who are Hispanic cause for concern. Citizens are not required to carry identity papers, but in Arizona if you are a citizen of Mexican descent, you may think twice before exercising this right.

    Another point I was making is that we are a country that values “due process.” We insist on rights at trials and due process in administrative proceedings – this is to ensure the government can’t arbitrarily deprive us of liberty. And like all enlightened democracies we afford these protections of due process to everyone within our borders.

    As I said in the blog, we can do better on the border, and I think we can do better than the Arizona law. Perhaps the most discouraging thing about the Arizona law is that, no profiling language notwithstanding, it sets up a general presumption that immigrants are bad and pushes law enforcement and society to make judgments based on race.

    In addition to the profiling issue there are significant practical issues. For example the effort to deal with non criminal unauthorized migrants will pull resources away from very effective programs to remove criminal aliens from our jails before they are released back into society.