I am starting a new job tomorrow. As a last chance at an extended trip for a while, I traveled to Arizona, and took the opportunity to talk to people about the state’s political climate. Unsurprisingly, many of the viewpoints I got were from liberals, but even the conservatives were saying similar things, albeit from a different perspective.
Here’s what I learned.
I asked about the Senate seat to be vacated by Senator Kyl. The most conservative are enthusiastic about J. D. Hayworth—whose House district is gerrymandered to negate the liberal votes of Tempe in favor of the conservative votes of Scottsdale and other extremely conservative Phoenix suburbs to the north—though they are far from confident that he would win a statewide general election. The rest don’t find his potential candidacy to be credible, but acknowledge that neither party has a particularly strong bench. The more liberal people I spoke to think that Representative Giffords would be a more likely winner, even in her current condition, than pretty much anyone else in the state who would run for the seat. I’m skeptical of her chances, but I don’t live there. Anyway, the outcome is far from certain at this time, regardless of who runs.
The recent noise about Baja Arizona is nothing new. Just as California and Washington have long had occasional flare-ups of state division saber-rattling, so, too, has Arizona. Reflecting the counterparts in California and Washington, few Arizonans take such a division seriously.
I was intrigued by the locals’ opinions on SB 1070. With the state’s high unemployment, illegal immigrants are considered by many to be taking more jobs than their spending would create. There’s validity to that position; illegal immigrants are far more likely, compared to those with deeper roots in the state, to send any surplus of earnings to family in Mexico and Central America, rather than spending it on the local economy. As a result, if you assume a particular job could be held by someone without strong ties to poorer nations, it is better for the local and national economy for that job to be held by such a person. Few people were able to articulate their position as clearly as that, but the issue is not as jingoistic as it appears to many liberals outside of Arizona.
On the other hand, if the issue is truly one of employment, then the position of those opposed to SB 1070 makes a lot of sense. They note that the employers aren’t being targeted by the legislation, even though those are the ones who most benefit from hiring illegals. They can (and many do) violate labor laws with impunity, recognizing that their employees will not report them. This puts pressure on employers who want to follow the law, since such employers are unable to compete on price.
Arizona passed legislation several years ago to address the employers. So why is there a perceived need for SB 1070? There are two answers to this.
First, many illegal immigrants are working not as “employees,” in the classical sense, but rather as day laborers. This was especially prevalent during the housing boom, but it continues even today. One can get a concrete patio poured at minimal labor costs by hiring day laborers. Some unscrupulous “employers” will neglect to pay after the work has been done, or will pay less than the negotiated rate, knowing that they won’t be reported to the authorities. Many other illegals are working as live-in nannies or maids. This underground economy is much harder to enforce than the above-board economy addressed by the earlier legislation.
The second answer is fear. The drug wars in Mexico have caused increased worry north of the border. Many Arizonans are concerned that the latest wave of illegal immigrants are working in the drug trade. It’s extremely difficult to determine whether this is actually happening, or is merely a xenophobic meme. Nobody I talked to had heard of anything concrete.
In any case, the general opinion of Arizonans who support SB 1070 is that there’s nothing wrong with requiring everyone who looks Mexican to carry documentation with them at all times. The general opinion of those who oppose it is that there’s something very wrong with such a requirement. And that’s the ultimate crux of the divide.
I’ll leave you with a couple of questions:
- In times of high unemployment, when an illegal immigrant’s contribution to the local and national economy is smaller than that of a legal resident, what, if anything, is wrong with attempting to shift employment more toward legal residents?
- If illegal immigrants are being hired under the table, how do you stop this from happening? Can it be done in a manner that doesn’t result in de facto racial discrimination? How would you implement it?
- U.S. appeals court OKs decision blocking Arizona immigration law (cnn.com)
- How a boycott meant to save Arizona is hurting it (salon.com)
- SB 1070: Ninth Circuit blocks portion of Arizona’s racial profiling law (dailykos.com)
- Tough illegal immigration bill headed to Ga gov (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Anti-immigrant bills defeated in Arizona Senate (redantliberationarmy.wordpress.com)