A project of the Center for Community Change

Sometimes, somebody in Iowa gets it right…

Iowa has been a hot-bed for anti-migration hate speech- from minutemen? Nope. From our presidential candidates. In Iowa they’re playing it old school. Like McCarthyism and Isolationists. But a recent article in a local paper, highlights the problems with this type of election strategy:

‘Sanctuary cities’ are not the real issue: Change immigration laws that don’t work By LORI CHESSER
SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER

September 16, 2007
  5 Comments

The recent ads proclaim his insight that “immigration laws don’t work when they’re ignored” and propose using local law enforcement to find unauthorized immigrants. Problem solved! Why didn’t anyone else think of that in the last 20 years?

Several reasons, actually. Foremost among them is that local governments have better, more effective law-enforcement things to do. Putting away drug traffickers, extortionists, thieves and pedophiles keeps our communities safe. If local police are checking immigration papers with every contact, fewer crimes will be reported.

New immigrants, particularly the undocumented, often live in neighborhoods with higher crime rates and are vulnerable as crime victims. Getting them comfortable with local police helps find the bad guys. Of course if an immigrant – legally here or not – commits a crime, local police can and do report this to the Immigration Service. Even green-card holders will be deported for committing serious crimes. And don’t the terrorists love it that we are spending so much time trying to catch illegal janitors? Go team!

Then there is the question of knowing who is here legally and who is not. The Immigration Service itself sometimes cannot figure this out. This May, as a result of “trained” Los Angeles police checking immigration status in jail, Pedro Guzman, a developmentally disabled U.S. citizen, was deported to Mexico for misdemeanor trespassing. Yes, you read that right. He was finally found in August after repeatedly trying to enter the United States by foot, walking more than 100 miles.

Not everyone without proper documentation is an unauthorized immigrant. Many U.S. citizens have no documentation. People born abroad are entitled to U.S. citizenship in many cases if one parent is a citizen, but not everyone knows how to prove this. People with low incomes or who have certain disabilities may not have driver’s licenses or copies of their birth records. Who do police question? Only brown people? Only those with an accent? Or will our whole life become one big TSA search of Grandma’s luggage?

Finally we get to the real problem: Ignoring the immigration laws has been the unstated policy of the federal government for years. Why? Because Congress cannot muster the political will to authorize enough or the right kind of visas to deal with our changing economy and demographics.

We are stuck with quotas created almost 20 years ago, and no one, no matter much they claim to love immigrants (as Mitt says “legal immigration is great!”) will lift a finger to update them. Talking tough on enforcement is easy (especially when talking about people who don’t vote). Figuring out how to remain competitive in the global economy without enough workers is hard.

Co-opting catchy misnomers like “sanctuary cities” may give Romney some caucus-season ammunition, but it doesn’t solve the problem. If Romney is really smart, he will show he understands how to govern effectively and fairly (or at least how to stop banging our collective head against a brick wall): When laws don’t work and no longer make sense, we don’t enforce them – we change them.

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