Economic Recovery via Nativismâ€” A Recipe for Disaster
Arizona is presenting a shining example to the rest of the nation just how economic recovery is done right. If one follows the doctrine of Senate President Russell Pearce, all you need to do is drive every single undocumented immigrant from your state and, voila, miraculous things will happen!
As evidenced by the rash of anti- immigrant laws that are marching their way through the AZ Senate and on to the House, it’s obvious that the strategy for repairing the disaster that is our state budget, housing crisis and loss of jobs is to simply remove nearly three hundred thousand souls from the state. The dirty little secret is this entire premise is propped up by questionable-at-best figures via extremist anti-immigrant hate groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) founded by the eugenicist John Tanton.
Right now there are no fewer than twenty-seven immigration bills which, among other things, mandate citizenship verification of every soul going about their usual business of living in this state. Whether you want to drive a car, register a vehicle, go to school or college, go to the hospital or rent a public housing apartment you will need to verify your citizenship or face being reported to the authorities or arrested on the spot. If you reside in public housing, everyone sharing the apartment will be evicted if just one person is undocumented. You can’t even be born here and become a citizen—something that an awful lot of us took for granted when our ancestors came to this country. Aside from the obvious legal and constitutional pitfalls of such extremist measures, it’s obvious that the purpose is to make life so untenable to those who don’t have proper forms of ID that they’ll simply leave the state—and very likely take all their relatives with them.
Unfortunately what Senator Pearce and his followers are proposing will only deepen our financial crisis. Whether you have papers or not, by nature of living in the state you are spending money in this state. You are buying food, paying for services, and paying rent. You may work cheaply for small or large businesses and this allows them to flourish.
But most of all, you are paying taxes. If you are working with a fake social security number you have wages withheld including state, federal, social security and Medicare (which you will never get back if you’re undocumented, so you are essentially giving a freebee to all the rest of us who pay in…thanks for that BTW). Many undocumented immigrants work with ITIN numbers which withhold taxes as well. Even if you are working under the table you still pay sales taxes and your rents go towards allowing landlords to stay in business and pay their real estate taxes which fund schools. When you fill up your car gasoline taxes go towards fixing the roads and registering your vehicle funds the state coffers as well.
If you suddenly lift a huge number of people out of a state, no matter what their immigration status, you are eliminating hundreds of thousands of opportunities for revenue. According to a Perryman Group study, if unauthorized immigrants were removed from Arizona the state would lose $26.4 billion in economic activity, $11.7 billion in gross state product and 140,324 jobs. In fact numerous studies from such disparate sources as the CATO Institute and the Immigration Policy Center and reported by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times have shown that immigrants, both documented and undocumented are a vital and necessary boon to our economy and contribute more than they use in state services.
Up until now, states historically have tried to attract people to within their borders because growth means economic prosperity. Actively legislating to remove 280,000+ people, or the equivalent of the entire city of Glendale’s population can only be looked upon as seriously counter-productive (or can you say “insane”?). It’s like trying to increase milk production in the dairy by slaughtering the best cows.
Of course those at FAIR and their nativist followers like Pearce consistently look on one side of the ledger showing only what the undocumented cost in services, hospital visits, education and incarceration. But even the most rudimentary of bookkeepers knows that looking only at the debit side while ignoring the credits is a recipe for disaster. It sure makes balancing a checkbook pretty darned impossible—I know because I tried it once.
This doesn’t prevent the xenophobes from tirelessly promoting the myth that somehow migrants risked their lives crossing a desert for the welfare benefits and free healthcare we reportedly hand out like candy at Halloween. Never mind that in Mexico and other Latin American countries the healthcare is free and immigrants tend use far less of the healthcare system in the US than citizens. The fact that the undocumented do not qualify for any state or federal welfare benefits seems to be conveniently overlooked as well.
This one-sided assault can only lead us to believe there is more behind this than a concern for the wellbeing of the state. To endlessly promote a false paradigm and conveniently ignore the facts stating the contrary is a surefire indicator there is another agenda lurking. The most obvious explanation is fears of an inevitable shift in racial demographics. By now we’ve become accustomed to the oft-repeated claims from the xenophobic right that race is not a factor in their pursuit of a citizens-only America. But when an agenda is relentlessly pursued that actually harms the economy to achieve the goal of expunging mostly brown-skinned people from the state… well I think we can call a spade a spade.
Not to say that racism is the only driving force at work here—money also plays a powerful role. Our state is engaged in a love affair with private prison corporations and the kickbacks they send to keep our most ardent nativists in power are well known. This lends a mighty impetus to the continued criminalization of immigrants. These rapidly growing industries that reap profits from human misery are masters at nurturing the fears of voters with daily onslaughts of “criminal alien” and “the law is the law” talking points. This insures that the state of Arizona will remain the gift that keeps on giving.
Few realize that the underlying goal of FAIR and other anti-immigrant groups, and by extension their ardent followers, is not only stopping undocumented immigration but ALL immigration of people of color into this nation. One Arizona bill that is making its way through the senate, SB1407 mandates that schools must also document the costs of educating legally present non-citizen children. Yes, even those lucky ones who jumped through all the nearly impossible hoops to make their way through our onerous immigration system are now under scrutiny. The obvious intent of this is to prove, by the usual means of one-sided bookkeeping, that even documented immigrants are an unnecessary burden on our society.
So to the “law is the law” folks who seem to be stuck in that groove of rhetoric like a phonograph needle in the scratched records of yesteryear, please try to wrap your minds around this one simple premise: Sometimes laws are crappy (yes it’s true!) and we’ve had many prime examples in our history. It once was illegal to sit in the front of a bus if your skin was darker than lily white. It was illegal to marry someone of a different race or date a person of the same sex. It was once legal to own other human beings like so much property and it was illegal for women to vote. If we stuck with the “law is the law” mantra back when people were actively trying to change these terrible edicts we’d still be living in the dark ages today.
How difficult is it to understand that when laws don’t work or when they actually work against our best interests then they must be changed? Instead of blaming the victims of bad laws, like blaming slaves for slavery, it’s time to wake up and focus on our elected representatives in Washington who seem to have no intention of making the needed changes to immigration policies.
In the meantime, it’s best we keep reminding those in power in the Dry Hate State that cooking the books to maintain their power base is not a sustainable practice. As revenues decline we will only see further cuts in education, healthcare and other valuable services as a result of their narrow-minded xenophobic witch hunt. As businesses avoid us or flee altogether, our state that once prospered from the contributions of immigrants will simply dry up and blow away.
There is a grassroots effort currently underway to recall the man who is behind every hateful anti-immigrant law in Arizona, Senate President Russell Pearce. Please consider helping by contributing your time or money to this cause. You will not only be saving Arizona but our success will send a powerful message to every other state that is considering similar legislation. Please go to www.recallpearce.com to find out more!