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Musings from the Sonoran Desert and elsewhere

Amy McMullen

Amy McMullen
Gold Canyon, Arizona, USA
January 01
Amy McMullen is an activist for human rights, social and economic justice and a blogger and political essayist currently residing in Arizona. Her main interests are anti-racism, immigrant rights, LBGTQ equality, health justice and women's rights. She has worked to remove the worst of the anti-immigrant, Tea Party politicians from office in Arizona and advocates to get progressives elected. Amy's former incarnations include back-to-the-land counter culturist in the 70s, small business entrepreneur, Bed and Breakfast proprietor, charter boat captain, EMT, medical assistant and rehabber of distressed homes.. She currently volunteers for the Phoenix Urban Health Collective as a street medic and is on the board of a new nonprofit devoted to providing free medical care for the uninsured and under-insured in Phoenix. Amy's writings on social justice and other subjects appear in Truthout, Salon, Addicting Info, The Tucson Sentinel, The Pragmatic Progressive and on her blog at Open Salon.

Editor’s Pick
MARCH 17, 2011 12:17PM

Economic Recovery via Nativism— A Recipe for Disaster

Rate: 5 Flag


  Photo--Bob McMullen



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 to find out more!

Photo--Bob McMullen 










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People keep saying the "law is the law" because every single developed nation, however liberal, regulates immigration through a bureaucratic process. Sweden, the Netherlands, Japan, Canada...all enforce immigration laws, which are more stringent than America's. Open borders are a typically insane libertarian notion that a few nutters like you latch onto as a way of assuaging racial guilt.

The irony lost on you is that you yourself are largely a racist. You are politically pandering to one specific ethnic group, Latinos, because they are physically in a position to illegally immigrate with ease. If you were really race neutral you would support the process of lawful, regulated immigration as it stands. A person in Thailand or Côte d'Ivoire should have just as much chance to immigrate here as someone sneaking across the border with Mexico.

And I have a disturbing sense that you mean a white person when you say "nativist", which again racially marginalises the many non-whites that oppose illegal immigration.

Ultimately your racism hysteria plays right into the hands of greedy business owners who want to keep labour costs as low as possible. Your vision of "economic recovery" seems cut from the failed model that got us here in the first place.
Hmmm, did I ever say that I opposed immigration reform? I guess I missed that.
And thanks for the "racist" label, it definitely shows just how poorly you comprehend my writings.
It will serve Arizona right if their economy tanks but then a lot of good people will get hurt along with the igits.

Senator Pearce and his buddies don't seem to understand that even poor people spend money and pay taxes.
MA, you don't seem to realize that opposing destructive, mean spirited legislation does not mean that we don't need immigration reform. That is totally not the point. It is a false choice to say that it's either AZ's hateful, impractical BS or nothing.

"If you were really race neutral you would support as it stands."

Another false choice. I support the process of lawful, regulated immigration but not as it stands and not as currently proposed in AZ.

Utah, of all places, is leading the way with thoughtful, practical reform. I don't agree with everything in the bill but they are at least trying to come up with a sensible solution.

Here, educate yourself:$56877
A state with an Aztec name, trying to make sure it has no Aztecs in it?
So what are you saying people who want to "drive a car, register a vehicle, go to school or college" should be able to give the name Donal Duck and get registered? Why should illegal aliens have less responsibility of idenity than actual tax paying citizens?

Are we to believe people should use government services, take jobs from Americans and driving wages down, using government services without actually paying taxes to support those services?

Sure, people basically come here to work. But take a million semiskilled people from a macho culture put ten to an appartment, in a country with vanishing blue collar jobs, half as many latino women, then add alcohol to the mix. Sounds like a plan to me.
This reads extremely racist. Is it the reader or your writing?
I've been amazed by how much carnage half a dozen shitheads could cause in my favorite state.
@ Anya, if you would be so kind as to point out what "reads extremely racist" to you, I would be happy to show how you are mistaken.
clearly, extremism is wrong.
your points seem fair, but you dance around a premise to which you make reference throughout the article. is it ok to be an illegal immigrant?
if you would start with an answer to that question, your writing may have a bigger impact, possibly even on people you seem to - maybe rightfully so - despise.
The immigrant debate is complex. I don't think that the real core of the argument has to do with their paying or not paying taxes. The debate tends to concentrate attention on the lowest paid, least protected of all workers. This reframes the larger debate over how much all workers should accept as part of a "bargain" to "help" in the economic recovery efforts by giving up benefits, taking pay cuts, etc. Again, the assumption is that all the sacrifice has to come from workers, not from investors or the rich. The immigration argument redefines work as that work which is done on the lowest edge of the scale, and heads off more aggressive counter-arguments in the larger debate in favor of, say, doing something that makes sense, like taxing the rich at the 80 to 90 percent rate they used to be taxed at, before class power became intolerable in America. And yes, the immigration argument is often racist, too, so it divides workers who would otherwise find common cause. We should join with these people.

Amy how many sigs are needed for a recall of Pearce and how many have you reached? Also
As of now (mid April) the recall effort has brought in over 2/3 of the signatures needed. We're well on track to reach the goal in the time allotted for this process. This will be the first time a Senate President has been recalled so this is an historic event.