WE might as well have been in a forest fire, for all the heat generated in Phoenix, and I don’t mean the 103° weather.
A panel on immigration reform at the recent American Jewish Press Association meeting — held in Phoenix — recalled mythical Chinese dragons, the fires pouring out of their mouths.
It wasn’t the fire of interpersonal anger or hostility. It was the pressure-cooker response to a problem this country has not seen since its founding. Remember the old grade-school truism about the United States being unlike Europe, because we are protected by two oceans? No more. Our borders are now breached, much like the southern border of Israel.
Hamas freely fires rockets over the border, effectively erasing it. Mexicans fire their own bodies over the American border, also erasing it, at least as it stretches across the bottom of Arizona.
“You have to live here to understand what’s going on,” moderator Brahm Resnik sums up.
Item: Just 45 minutes south of Phoenix, the drug war rages.
Item: Bodies — dead bodies — of illegal immigrants are found every single day along the border.
Item: Phoenix is the kidnapping capital of America.
Item: Trucks — traffickers — with 12 to 24 immigrants roll over on the highway.
Item: Arizona is the fastest growing state in the union, and it’s being built by illegal immigrants.
Item: Arizona is fed up with the inaction on the part of the federal government. That’s whether you’re for or against the recent “SB 1070,” the highly controversial bill passed by the Arizona legislature. That’s the common denominator: blazing anger at the irresponsibility of the federal government.
Ten years ago, Russell Pearce, an Arizona legislator, stepped into the vacuum created by the federal inaction.
Six laws passed easily, along the line of taking away the licenses of businesses that hire illegal immigrants.
Now, the Arizona legislature in SB 1070 mandates the police to check on the citizenship bonafides of those otherwise stopped for crimes, and the country suddenly is in an uproar.
What this means, say the panelists, is that a furor over illegal immigration is merely waiting to happen in your own state, for nothing has happened in Arizona “suddenly.” It has exploded first in Arizona, but the pressure-cooker is building up all over America.
After that, viewpoints diverge sharply.
PAULINA Vasquez Morris, a Republican whose mother is a legal immigrant from Cuba, is running for Congress in Phoenix.
This is her take: Sometimes it takes a state to move a nation. Something has to be done — and enforcement is definitely a major part of the mix. That’s why she supports SB 1070.
But she wants Congress to do much more than enforce the laws against, for example, human trafficking (“we’ve encouraged highly profitable 21st-century human slavery”). She wants it to get at the heart of the problem, which is not how to stop Mexicans from crossing the border, but how to stop them from wanting to.
A country that provides its people with good opportunities is a country whose citizens will no longer yearn for America, she says.
“We must help Mexico help itself — help it democratize its economy, help it give its citizens access to the credit markets.
“Look at the heart of the issue: Why would people want to leave their own country? We must solve the problem on both sides [of the border].”
BILL Strauss, the local ADL representative, ticks off a number of points:
SB 1070 is bad because a state should not assume the responsibilities of the federal government.
Many Latino citizens in Arizona support SB 1070.
Boycotts of Arizona do nothing to help illegal immigrants. “You hurt businesses with 70% Latino employees.”
The extremist-racist (“National Socialist”) and the mainstream groups are drawing closer together, with the extremists saying all they want to do
is “protect the border.”
The wall [under construction along the border] is a “crazy answer.”
Illegal immigration is the one thing George Bush got right. Illegal immigration is “coming to your state as a campaign issue.”
Because of SB 1070, Latino citizens cannot go to the hospital, the store, without getting “the look.”
We interchange three terms: immigration, illegal immigration, “you look like you’re from Mexico.”
Rabbi John Linder of Temple Soleil struggled to articulate a “Jewish response” to SB 1070. He cited scriptural support for welcoming the stranger and seemed to favor a totally open border, with an unlimited right of immigration into the US.
GIDEON Aronoff is the head of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
He opposed SB 1070 because it is impossible to “enforce your way” out of the illegal immigration crisis. That’s a “patchwork” approach.
At the same time, he thanked the Arizona legislature for putting the issue on the table. “It was fantastic at identifying a problem and poor in identifying a solution. Show me a 50-foot fence and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.”
Aronoff, however, has a solution, based on a framework articulated by NY Sen. Chuck Shumer.
Instead of bogus “solutions” (such as a wall) which have only led to a dramatic increase in illegal immigration, Aronoff favors the creation
of a comprehensive (non- “patchwork”) legal immigration system.
1. Effective enforcement at the border and in the workplace.
2. Future, legal flows of immigration.
3. Before finalizing the status of illegal immigrants, address the backlog of people trying to get to the US legally. This should take eight years.
4. While the backlog is being addressed, the 12 million illegal immigrants now in the US must register. They will need to pay taxes and stay out of trouble. Eight years from now, after the backlog is cleared, those of the 12 million illegal immigrants who have registered, paid taxes and obeyed the law become eligible for citizenship.
“It would take a police state to deport 12 million people,” he says.
5. Recognize that the US is changing, but then, it has always been changing. The US needs to acknowledge the benefits provided by newcomers without social fragmentation.
Among Aronoff’s other points:
Individual states cannot provide a solution. It’s a national problem.
Both Democrats and Republicans have irresponsibly ducked the issue.
“How can we build coalitions with Latinos on Israel if we say that dead people at the border don’t count?”
Use available resources to guard the border rather than to deport bus boys and gardeners.
“We need to have compassion for the people of Arizona who are dealing with this.”