It is increasingly hard to have an immigration discussion here in Phoenix. The vast majority of residents are absolutely convinced, despite evidence to the contrary, that they are in the middle of an apocalyptic version of the Mariel boatlift and have found themselves surrounded by Tony Montana's ready to carve them up save for Sheriff Joe Arpaio's brave intervention.
You never meet anyone who has actually had a problem with immigrants, and most like the immigrants, even the illegal ones, they know. The other night a friend of mine said that we were all victims - I asked, "how?" Everyone seems to have stories of immigrant hijinx, but they are all like the stories of the lady who put her cat in a microwave -- it happened to someone else. And we do have stories of immigrant crimes on TV, but like shark attacks and extreme weather events, we overestimate their frequency because only certain outliers at the edges of the normal distribution get reported.
As an aside, one of the interesting things about the immigration debate for those of us who have read US history is how amazingly similar current arguments against particularly Mexican immigrants (the commit crime, they don't integrate, they take jobs from Americans) are identical to arguments used against the Irish, Italians, and most eastern Europeans at one time or another. I heard a woman at a part a while back of Slav background talking about how here immigrant grandparents were different than these Mexicans. I told her that the exact same arguments she was using were used against Easter Europeans in the early 20th century, and in fact, and in fact the first real immigration quotas in this country were meant to keep her ancestors out.
As a result, I tend to grab the pro-immigration side in debates, even though I think there are some sensible reasons it probably has to be restricted or restructured, just because I really don't like the vibe coming from the immigration opponents around me. When people take positions out of irrational fear and loathing, I am hugely reluctant to make any sort of common cause even if some of our concerns overlap.
Bruce McQuain argues that the main barrier to his advocating open immigration is the welfare state, and I am sympathetic to that argument. I still, however, think we are smart enough to have a safety net and allow much more open immigration. Bruce Pick has some sensible suggestions, and I published my own plan here.
And, as a final thought, the locals are never, ever going to convince me to their side when they trot Joe Arpaio up to the podium to make their case. I have opposed the current immigration law in Arizona less because of any immigration issues and more because Joe does not need any more arbitrary authority. I like what Radley Balko wrote the other day:
Dear Tea Partiers,
Ask Joe Arpaio to be your keynote speaker, and you've lost me.
He's a power-mad thug with a badge, the walking, mouth-breathing antithesis of the phrase "limited government."
Yes, this is but one state chapter in your movement. So distance yourself from them.
It's one thing to have a few idiots and nutjobs show up at your rallies.
It's quite another to invite one to speak.
More good stuff here.
Immigration is a thorny issue. But when we stand around and say "we don't want you here", I have to break ranks. When they say "these immigrants are damaging our economy", I have to break ranks. I don't have all the answers as to how to fix the problem, but I know that I refuse to close our country to people who want to live the American Dream. We have to enforce our laws, but when our laws are contrary to the very fabric of America, those laws need to change.