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The Golden Door

News and views on immigration law

Posts Tagged ‘Loma de Buenavista’

Loma de Buenavista – responding to AZ S.B. 1070

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Let me begin by saying that I do not support or agree with Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, S.B. 1070.  I believe that S.B. 1070 is not good law and not good policy.  It is not good law because immigration is federal law, not state law. Any state or local law that interferes with one area of the immigration system without corresponding adjustments in other areas makes it harder for the federal government to balance competing interests and effectively manage the entire system.  It is not good policy because it delegates to law enforcement personnel a function that is highly specialized and difficult to carry out — ascertaining immigration status, which even immigration agents sometimes have trouble doing — and requires law enforcement personnel to take on this function in addition to their current responsibilities.  It is an invitation to racial profiling.  It is also not good policy because it has a chilling effect on immigrant communities in general, whether documented or not, and thus casts too wide a net for its purported goal of combating illegal immigration.  It discourages immigrants from interacting with law enforcement and makes it harder for police to establish good working relationships with immigrant communities in order to prevent and solve crimes.  Immigrant communities are already targeted by criminals who take advantage of this very fear, that the police are the enemy.

All this is not to say that the purported concerns that drove passage of S.B. 1070 are not valid concerns:  to reduce violent crimes and drug and human trafficking crimes committed by undocumented immigrants; fear that the violence from Mexico’s drug wars would increasingly spill over the border; and lack of adequate immigration enforcement at the federal level that allows large numbers of undocumented immigrants to enter Arizona almost at will.  I agree that the federal immigration system needs an extensive overhaul, including effective deterrents to illegal immigration, effective tools for enforcement, unclogging the routes of legal immigration to encourage those we want to come to America to come speedily and contribute to our economy and society, and ensuring that employers who cannot find American workers can legally employ immigrants to do the job.

But on balance, I believe that S.B. 1070 goes too far in infringing on the rights of legal immigrants, chilling relations between immigrant communities and law enforcement, and injecting into the immigration system a wild card element not controlled by federal immigration authorities.  Let’s think through the consequences of all these undocumented immigrants who hypothetically will be picked up under the new law.  These individuals will be handed over to federal immigration authorities, who will then be faced with the problem of what to do with them.  Detention facilities are already overcrowded, and the money to feed and house these additional new detainees, who federal immigration authorities have not designated a priority to deport, will come out of the federal taxpayer dime.  Actually deporting these detainees will add even more (unplanned) burden and expense to the federal immigration budget.  And, once removed, without any change in immigration enforcement policies at the federal level, deportees will  likely promptly cross the border again, being careful this time to stay a little more under the radar, that is, avoid the police even more.

So there are plenty of reasons to criticize S.B. 1070, and I’m sure I’m not the only immigration lawyer in Philadelphia who feels this way .  But one article that I came across today really illustrated for me the frustrations of the Arizonans who support this law.  The BBC story, “Arizona immigration law stokes fear in Mexico village,” is about a poor rural village, Loma de Buanavista, located in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, northwest of Mexico City.  It is estimated that 60% of the village’s population lives in Arizona as undocumented immigrants, sending remittances back to relatives at home.  The village is so dependent upon these remittances that if they were to dry up the villagers would be devastated.  And if large numbers of their prodigals came back home there would be another problem — lack of employment.

Here’s a quote from one of the villagers, Ms. Mata Martinez:  “It’s people that go there (to the US) with no intention to steal or bother other people. They just want to have a job, grow, and generate jobs for those us here.”  Ms. Martinez doesn’t care about whether the waves of immigrants that Loma de Buenavista sends to Arizona enter legally with the permission of U.S. immigration authorities or not.  Clearly, she feels that illegal crossings shouldn’t matter so long as, once over the border, Loma de Buenavistans keep their heads down, work hard, and send money back home.  After all, this money is vital to the village’s economy.  S.B. 1070 is merely an obstacle to the flow of remittances and a threat to the livelihoods of the villagers’ relatives abroad.

While these are the concerns of the people of Loma de Buenavista, why should Arizonans care?  The actions of immigrants from Loma de Buenavista and others like them means that money earned in Arizona is sent abroad rather than spent on the local economy.  Also, depending on whether these immigrants pay income taxes or not they may or may not be contributing their fair share to any government or government-funded services that they use.  I’m not talking about public benefits like welfare or Medicaid that are only available for those with legal status, but infrastructure such as roadways and public transportation systems, emergency room services, fire departments, and other emergency first response services.

Still, try to imagine an Arizona without the Loma de Buenavista immigrants and their brethren.  Who would work the menial and hard labor jobs at low rates of pay that these immigrants are willing to fill, the landscapers, fruitpickers, factory workers, nannies, housekeepers, janitors, and construction workers?  Undocumented immigrants like the Loma de Buenavistans wouldn’t come to America if there wasn’t a demand for their labor that is not met by the domestic labor force.  What we need to do as a nation is recognize this reality and craft federal immigration reform that facilitates the fulfillment of the real labor force needs of American employers, protects immigrant employees from exploitation due to their undocumented status, and keeps better track of (and taxes!  don’t forget the taxes!) those who live within our borders.

A reformed immigration system would theoretically reduce the incentive to attempt to enter illegally for those who just want to come here to work.  This decrease in illegal immigration flows would then free up enforcement resources which could then be used to better target the hardened and dangerous criminals who need to be promptly and permanently removed from the country.  If fear of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants is the real reason behind the passage of S.B. 1070, then I’m afraid that Arizonans will wait a long time to see improvements under the auspices of their new anti-immigrant law.  I predict that S.B. 1070, if ever implemented, will only dilute federal immigration enforcement resources, making it harder to deport the criminal undocumented immigrants that we all want gone. Going through a legitimate Mexican immigration attorney is the most reliable way for families to attain solid legal citizenship; with penalties like these for trying to cut around the process, it seems unduly risky to do anything else.

Djung Tran, Esq.

Tran Law Associates

834 Chestnut Street #206
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 690-1933