Why using the stick doesn’t work
Harsh Arizona immigration law misses the point
If you are familiar with what the U.S.-Mexico border looks like right now, you would probably say that it resembles a fishing net with tears in it. A couple hundred miles of fence, a few watchtowers and a ton of patrol officers make up the protection afforded to our southern border. This net doesn’t do very much to stop illegal trespassing when it is overwhelmed by the millions of people attempting to enter the United States. For every person sent back, a few hundred more line up to try their luck.
In Arizona this immigration issue is highlighted by a wave of violence caused by drug and human trafficking, bleeding into ranches and towns that are adjacent to the border. In order to deal with this flux of violence, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1070 into law last Friday, granting new powers to police officers and border patrol to catch undocumented immigrants.
After having read the law, it is clear that these new powers open some very dangerous avenues for police brutality and profiling. In Arizona a police officer can, with reasonable suspicion, arrest someone without a warrant, stop and search a vehicle and demand identification under threat of deportation and imprisonment. According to The Associated Press, at an event last week President Barack Obama called into question the new Arizona law, and asked for a committee to investigate whether the state law comes into conflict with federal civil rights statutes.
The law will go into effect 90 days after the Arizona legislative session ends. Harsh criticism has come from the Hispanic community, which comments that this sort of law only flares tensions between civilians and police and is unfairly grounded in racial profiling. According to the Vancouver Sun (I like Canadian news services) there are suspected to be more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, and about 500,000 are suspected to live in Arizona.
Immigration reform is a tough issue to tackle. For one, there is a sense that part of the United States’ creed is to allow immigration to strengthen the country and provide opportunity for those who wish to integrate into our society, but there is always the backlash of the baggage that immigrants carry. The war on drugs we have so brutally and badly fought these last 40 years has led to civil unrest in Mexico and the crime and despotism of the government there has caused more people to consider immigrating to the United States. Many resort to working illegally or selling drugs because their plight isn’t much better in Mexico.
Drug violence has gotten significantly worse in the last few years and people are afraid of drug cartels gaining a stronger foothold over the border. It is likely that this new law, while it might impede the number of peaceful immigrants entering the country, will do little to stop drug violence. If anything all it will do is swell prison inmate numbers and tax police officers with even more work that they can’t manage.
We know that unless you take a militaristic approach like North Korea, border patrol doesn’t work very well. We already have predator drones patrolling the borders, giving cops more invasive privileges is just going to increase hostilities. These defensive actions are misguided, we should be tackling the root issue, not the symptoms of this new immigration.
The reason why we have so many new immigrants and are dealing with new drug violence is because the government of Mexico is slowly becoming a failed state. According to a report by the BBC, which bases its numbers on reports from the Mexican government, nearly 23,000 people have died since 2006 in conflicts between President Felipe Calderon’s deployed military and police forces and drug cartels. According to the same article, there are already 50,000 Mexican troops deployed in the war on drugs.
The United States either needs to cut financial incentive to waging this drug war, i.e. the estimated $13 billion in black market sales of illegal drugs like cocaine and marijuana. Or it needs to create a stronger government partnership with Mexico, and occupy it with military force until the drug cartels are too weakened to continue terrorizing the country. I would prefer the first option because it is a simple matter of legalizing drugs in the United States for personal use and regulating them. Once there is no more incentive to cross the border illegally, the drug violence will stop because drug sales will no longer be profitable, and Mexico can return solvency to its government.
The other option is the policy we are currently pursuing and have pursued for decades. Drugs continue to be sold illegally, violence continues to escalate, and the methods of containment grow more and more sinister by the day. This new law in Arizona is the first attempt at having a regime of martial law in the United States; it is slowly rolling back the bill of rights in the name of “security.”
Violence begets violence, and using the stick doesn’t work. The federal government needs to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill to allow more immigrants into the country legally, rewrite the drug scheduling act to reduce the flow of illegal drugs and provide for legal drug use, as well as re-work ties with the Mexican government to assist in the development of new Mexican industry to provide more opportunities and incentives for Mexicans to stay in the country.