Posted by: Amy | June 25, 2012

Legitimate questions on illegal immigration

We’re going to hear a lot of frenzied talk over the United States Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate key provisions in Arizona’s immigration law. There will be arguments about federal supremacy, state sovereignty, who can do what. That was the question the Court had to answer: Do states have the right to enact laws regarding immigration? Or does federal law preempt such efforts? The majority said the federal government reigns. Case closed.

The decision makes it clear that the federal government is responsible for the nation’s borders. Arizona has argued that the federal government isn’t doing enough about illegal immigration, hence S.B. 1070, the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.

Great title, huh? Who wouldn’t want to back that law? But it is rooted in fear. It says, “Those people over there? They are bad people because they aren’t supposed to be here. We have to protect ourselves from them.”

Yes, illegal immigration is a problem. But it’s not entirely about the United States having the right and the power to control who gets to live and work here. Illegal immigration creates an invisible class of people. If you were in a foreign land without any legal status, how will you be able to live? Would you be able to work at a fraction of what others are paid? What if something bad happens to you? Would you go to the police, even if it means losing everything?

“But they choose to come here illegally.”

Why do people make that decision? Why do they risk so much to come here illegally?

Ask anyone why they moved to the United States – legally or not. The answers? Jobs. Opportunity. Education. Stability. A chance for a better life. To provide for my family.

Then ask, “If you had a chance for all that in your native country, would you have stayed?”

I bet you the answer would be “Yes.”

The United States is trying to keep illegal immigrants out. But are the other countries trying to keep their people in? What are they doing? Don’t they want to keep their citizens? If not, why?

The U.S. federal government can build more fences, enact and enforce stricter immigration laws, penalize employers, etc. But the United States also can use its diplomatic muscles to pressure these other countries to stem the exodus. How much aid do we send these countries? Why not tie that money to efforts to combat illegal immigration? How about making sure that money is used for jobs and education there?

It’s easy to get people in the United States riled up over “protecting our borders.” That’s fear-based thinking, which never leads to good policy. We’re trying to solve a problem when it reaches our front door. We need to address the problem before it leaves its own threshold.

Coming up: More on illegal immigration and why I’d make a bad I.C.E. agent.



  1. Amy, I applaud you both taking and sharing your stance on this touchy issue. “That’s fear-based thinking, which never leads to good policy. We’re trying to solve a problem when it reaches our front door. We need to address the problem before it leaves its own threshold.” Amen, sister!!! Fear-based thinking does indeed rile people up, usually over things which require clear-headed thinking, which is not possible when riled up fearfully!! For starters, let’s eliminate the idea that people ‘not from here’ are by definition bad or scary. Other is different; OK. AND we all need food, shelter, education, opportunity. And we could ALL use more compassion and less fear. Starting at our very roots. Thanks, Amy, for this.

    • Thank you so much, Sarah. I hesitated to write about such a controversial and complex topic. I hope you come back for my next installment on this. Stay tuned.

  2. Protect our borders is a simple concept. The idea that Monsanto and other big ag companies contributed to the landlessness of the peasant class in Mexico and other countries and our involvement in the illicit drug trade as a primary consumer is a hard sell for politicians needing us to vote for them.

    • I hadn’t even thought about the connection to agricultural corporations. Thank you, Lara, for pointing that out. Foremost on my list was abject poverty, the drug trade and rampant political corruption. Is it any wonder people want to move away?

      • Big Ag has been land grabbing in 3rd world countries b/c peasants usually don’t hold “legal” title to land that they have farmed for millennia.

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