A short post on America, it being 4th July and all. But far from celebrating, I want to direct your attention to another example of state-sponsored bigotry in the land of the free following the now innocuous looking Arizona immigration laws. As an editorial mentions in today’s New York Times, three states – Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina – are in the process of clamping down on illegal immigrants by granting extraordinary powers to local law enforcement to harass people they suspect may be undocumented – i.e. Hispanics.
As the New York Times points out, the Federal registry being used to check someone’s status is flawed and in some cases the laws also sanction arresting legal immigrants if they are driving a car with an illegal passenger. So, a born national can be arrested for driving around his mother who is illegal, leaving a section of the population – roughly 12m nationally – living in constant fear. This also leaves employers in a bind, many of which require cheap labour to pick food crops and cotton.
There are two things going on here. One is a dishonest discussion about the economic impact of immigrants. As a report by the Center for American Progress, a think tank, points out, Arizona’s draconian laws will have a negative impact on the state’s economy. The second is (again) Washington’s inability to act responsibly and pass comprehensive immigration reform. In 2005, George W. Bush rightly pushed for a guest-worker program only for it to be shot down by short-sighted congressmen on the far right. They are daft to ignore America’s fastest growing voter block. Another chance arose last year with the Dream Act that would allow alien minors (up to 35) the chance to gain citizenship if they attend university or serve two years in the US military. It passed the House last year, but not the Senate. Obama should push more vigorously for this: as the Miami Herald notes, the Congressional Budget Office predicts the programme would generate $1.4b in tax revenue and add valuable high-skilled jobs.
Passing this law would be a fitting 4th of July celebration. Unfortunately, the state laws are more likely to win favour.
A Blake Ewing is a DPhil student in the DPIR and contributor to The Economist.