Can we have a sane immigration debate?

by Jordan Green

After several months of polarizing debate within the American civitas about the philosophical role of government and the more practical and knotty challenges surrounding taxation, the national debt, entitlements and healthcare, immigration has come roaring back with a vengeance.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision to sign into law SB 1070 on April 23, giving local law enforcement officers the authority to demand identification from any person suspected of being an illegal immigrant, has practically guaranteed that the Obama administration will feel compelled to tackle the issue.

The bill is a travesty, and is aptly described by former Arizona state senator Alfredo Gutierrez as “the most reprehensible thing since the Japanese internment.”

The law of Arizona land is almost certainly on rocky ground where the US Constitution is concerned. The Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth amendments immediately come to mind, which respectively guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects [and] against unreasonable searches and seizures,” declares that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law” and enjoins states from denying “to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Since the election of Barack Obama, a lot of people have been proclaiming the wisdom of the founding fathers, parading around under the label “constitutional conservative” and reasserting the primacy of “We the People.” Will any of them rise to the occasion to rescue the Constitution from the state of Arizona?

Perhaps some quiet voices of sober conservatism will surface, but the loudest calls are likely to be like that of William Gheen, president of Raleigh-based Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, who recently told a Tea Party audience in South Carolina: “I think that a lot of these corrupt politicians and illegal aliens have something in common: lying, cheating and stealing everything they can from the American taxpayer.”

The paleo-cons never fail to point out that the national debt is surging above $12 trillion and that an astronomical bill for Medicare and Social Security is about to come due with the baby boomers retiring en masse. Ask them if they would consider creating a pathway to citizenship for some 12 million undocumented residents, who are already paying taxes and whose inexpensive labor subsidizes construction activity and food production, and there appear to be few takers. Allowed to emerge from the shadows and go about their business without fearing their families will be broken up by local sheriff’s deputies empowered with federal immigration authority, it would seem that our newest immigrants could save money, buy houses, start businesses, train for and fill essential positions and pay increased taxes to foot the bill for all the entitlement programs that conservatives warn that we can’t afford.

Let’s hope for a sensible debate that focuses on practical solutions instead of ideological jeremiads. Sadly, most of us are not holding our breath.