I agree with at least part of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s statement on Friday – our broken immigration policy is a problem her state “did not create and the federal government has refused to fix.” Arizona could have filled that leadership vacuum with a bill that had a prayer of addressing the issue. Instead, local policymakers drummed up cynical, punitive measures that are likely to further bankrupt the state and achieve limited upside besides a false sense of progress.
Maybe it was worth it in an election year. Brewer may get to keep her job, but Arizona is likely to find itself in even more trouble if the bill actually succeeds in reducing the number of migrants to the state. Immigrants played a key role in driving Arizona’s economic growth over the last decade or so, a case the American Immigration Council lays out in a recent press release.
I agree with Obama’s characterization of the bill as “irresponsible,” but policymakers who are ready to roll up their sleeves on immigration shouldn’t simply dismiss what happened on the Arizona border. Voters made it clear that it’s the illegal part of illegal immigration that’s most troubling to people. Most Americans don’t want to lock the doors. Most want to be strong enough to strike an honest deal with the world’s tired and poor – and smart enough to keep our preferential access to the global talent pool. But the failure of policymakers to design a system that works has turned this into a fight about rule of law.
If I know my people well enough, and I like to think I do on most days, we’ve got a very healthy appetite for law and order. We see it as the backbone of our freedom, the foundation on which we build our do-it-yourself dreams. 12 million human beings with ambiguous legal status has rattled our sense of order, particularly in border states like Arizona. This has made it difficult to have an honest conversation about the real social and economic tradeoffs of immigration.
I feel like I’m stating the obvious here, but this is one of those fights where basic truths are easily lost. Here’s how I see it. Rather than do the politically difficult work of creaking open the country’s front door a bit more, policymakers just shamefully left the back door unlocked. Arizona revealed the cost of that short-term calculus. It’s now hard to move forward on immigration policy until a sheriff rides into town.