How Much Immigration Is Too Much?

Right Angles

By Noam Neusner

Published April 28, 2010, issue of May 07, 2010.
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Arizona’s law requiring police officers to check the residency status of those they suspect of being illegal immigrants has drawn swift condemnation from a motley group, ranging from The Wall Street Journal to unions. National Jewish groups have also weighed in with statements blasting the law.

But critics of the state’s law should think twice before pointing an accusatory finger at Arizona. As Arizona Governor Jan Brewer put it, the law is an attempt to address “a crisis we did not create.” Arizona, after all, is home to nearly a half-million illegals and the main border crossing for millions more. If you don’t like the Arizona law, the natural response is to agree to a consistent and meaningful federal program of immigration enforcement.

Yet even as they complain about usurpation of federal authority, immigration advocates tend to oppose federal enforcement aimed at curbing illegal immigration. Workplace raids? Inhumane. Requiring proof of legal residency? A violation of civil rights. Fast-track deportation of illegal aliens? An attack on due process.

Meanwhile, liberal municipalities across the country have declared themselves “sanctuary cities,” vowing not to help enforce federal immigration law. And state and local governments provide an array of public benefits and services that can be accessed by illegals.

It would appear that the hardest thing about being an illegal immigrant is getting over the border. Once you’re here, you’re home free.

Let there be no doubt: Arizona’s law is not ideal. Asking local law enforcement to do the work of an immigration officer is an invitation to profiling. Illegals may well be caught and prosecuted, which is good, but legal immigrants and even

citizens will be stopped and inconvenienced, and made to feel threatened. It’s happened before in America.

But that doesn’t mean we should give up on trying to find ways of making sure those living in the country actually have a right to be here.

Jewish groups, however, have largely allied themselves with those who are more interested in welcoming immigrants than in enforcing immigration laws. Part of the reason is our community’s tendency to romanticize immigration. A case in point is the communal habit of viewing the struggles of illegal immigrants who overstay their visas or sneak across the border in search of economic betterment through the lens of the experience of Jewish refugees who fled persecution in Europe.

But that’s a cheap moral thrill, and it ignores the simple truth that blanket support for immigration — illegal or legal — isn’t cost-free, morally or economically.

Every person who comes to America stands to gain greatly, but there is a price to be paid. Sometimes that price is paid by taxpayers, who support public schools and government programs that do not differentiate between illegals and others. Sometimes that price is paid by hospitals, which bear the added cost of treating illegals. And sometimes that price is paid by less-educated native-born Americans, as well as other recent immigrants, who see their earning power and job prospects diminished thanks to the low-wage competition.

Because of Arizona’s actions, we are focused on illegal immigration. But we should really have a broader conversation about immigration.

This past year, America granted legal residency to more than 1.1 million people. The question is: If immigration is such a good thing, why not more? Why not 2 million? Why not 5 million?

We can’t continue to pretend that giving out green cards to 1.1 million people a year and then effectively waving through another several hundred-thousand illegal immigrants is good for our economy or our country.

If it were, Arizona would be more than happy to continue being America’s welcome mat. The fact that it has chosen to close the golden door to those living in the state illegally isn’t proof that our hearts have grown cold. It’s evidence that we have reached a breaking point.

Noam Neusner is a principal with the communications firm 30 Point Strategies. He is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

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