Tuesday, March 18, 2008

" Cutting off the nose to spite the face "

Arizona's recent attempt to halt the employment of the undocumented within its borders will not deter more workers from crossing the border.

Exasperated with what it perceives as the federal failure to control our border with Mexico, Arizona will now sanction Arizona employers who knowingly hire the undocumented. Such employers risk losing their licenses to operate a business.

Although the state has reported an increase in people leaving the state since Jan. 1, when the law took effect, only the politicians and anti-immigrant coalitions who supported the law are claiming success.

Economists point out that the state's economy is experiencing a serious downturn, and it is impossible to distinguish whether the law or the weak economy is causing increased apartment vacancy rates, reductions in school populations or shorter lines in emergency rooms.

The Arizona Republic in Phoenix has reported that "everyone knows someone who is struggling to hang on to a business closely tied to the housing industry."

And those who are leaving Arizona may be taking their consumer expenditures along with them: Sales tax collections show a 2 percent decline statewide for the current fiscal year.

Arizona undermines its own economy by seeking to rid itself of immigrants. A December 2007 Congressional Budget Office report recognized that most efforts to evaluate the economic impact of unauthorized immigrants on state coffers have concluded that tax revenues generated by documented and undocumented immigrants exceed the cost of public services they use.

An even more current report from the American Immigration Law Foundation cited a 2007 study that balanced Arizona state tax revenues paid by immigrant workers -- including naturalized citizens and noncitizens -- against exceeded services provided, and found a net profit to the state of about $940 million for fiscal 2004.

Most analysts believe that studies such as these apply to the undocumented as well. Studies showing the specific contributions by the undocumented in Iowa, Oregon, Texas and the Chicago metropolitan area all showed revenues exceeding services for the population.

Finally, the CBO report concluded that even if public spending exceeded the taxes generated, spending by state and local governments to provide services to the undocumented on average accounted for less than 5 percent of total spending for the particular service.

Arizona has one issue right: Workers cross the border unlawfully to find jobs. If the chance to support oneself and one's family is no more present in the U.S. than in Mexico, many Mexicans will much prefer to eke out a living in the country where they were born, speak the language and have a history. But of course, even with United States' depressing economic forecast, our economy remains substantially stronger than that of Mexico.

Much like the $15 million high-tech "virtual border fence," which Arizona Sen. John McCain called a disgrace for its dysfunctionality, the law will accomplish little to regulate the flow of workers across the border.

This country has a 70-plus-year history of luring Mexican workers across the border -- first for agricultural labor, then for household help and now for construction, manual labor and some manufacturing industries.

One state's threat to punish business owners through license forfeiture will not stop this entrenched pattern. At best, Arizona will only "deport" the undocumented to neighboring states where the jobs still exist.

Let us hope that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco recognizes this legislated meanness as a misguided scapegoating, frequent in economic hard times, and as an unconstitutional subversion of the federal government's authority to police immigration.

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