“Illegal is not a race, it’s a crime.”

By now, it seems that pretty much everyone has heard about Arizona’s controversial new immigration law. Protests are springing up around the country, threats of boycotts and lawsuits are coming from various groups, and politicians from across the spectrum (including notable figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jeb Bush ) are condemning the legislation. And as is so often the case, the USCCB is taking a stand on the wrong side of this issue. 

Despite the firestorm, here in Arizona, 70% of likely voters support it

Why the disparity? Is it because 70% of Arizonans are racist? Hardly. It’s because in Southern Arizona, where most of the population lives, we’re on the front lines of a population invasion. 

As a citizen of Tucson, I spend every day immersed in this issue. My world is a weird hybrid of the U.S. and Mexico, which is unsurprising considering Tucson’s proximity to the border. There is an enormous difference between Tucson and even Phoenix, just 100 miles away. Phoenix feels like an American city with a large Mexican and Mexican-American population. Tucson – particularly the Southern part where I reside – feels like a U.S. outpost inside of Mexico. It’s an every day experience to meet people who speak no English, even though they’ve lived here for many years. There is a brand-new supermarket just down the road that called “El Super” – and the slogan on the sign is “Cuesta Menos.” English, if you can find it in the store, is the subtitle, not the primary language. The businesses here are a mish-mash of tire shops, taquerias, carnicerias, dulcerias, mariscos stands, shuttle services (to & from the border), payday loan centers and pawn shops. The architecture is squat and squallid, sprawling across the landscape in the way Mexican cities often do. Even the highway signs on our side of town measure distances in kilometers, not miles.

And, as often as not, any person you meet is as likely – if not moreso – to be an illegal alien as they are to be a U.S. citizen. This is anecdotal, of course, and not statistical – I don’t have the means to do a population sample – but as small business owners who rent out both commercial and residential properties, my wife and I are in a position to see people’s documentation on a regular basis. 

While it’s true that there’s a lot of crime among the illegal population (I’ll talk more about that in a minute) I will grant those protesting that it’s not the whole story. Many of the illegals are just here because, as you might expect, they hope to work and get paid more than in their native Mexico. Some are successful, but as immigration laws tighten, many are languishing in a country that is no longer, as one illegal once told me, “the land of opportunity.”

And this is a problem. These individuals work, but they can’t legally be paid. They get under-the-table wages that are unfair, or work in exchange for some accommodation. They have no access to non-emergency health care, and despite the common conception that they just crowd emergency rooms (they often do) where care can’t be denied, many avoid medical attention altogether because they fear being revealed as illegals and deported. Conditions as troublesome and painful as tooth decay go untreated for long periods of time for this reason, and many, lacking adequate wages (or food stamps) to buy groceries are going hungry more often than they should be. Because of the legal ramifications, even employers who want to help them simply can’t, so they tend to be taken advantage of by those who see them merely as a cheap commodity.

Despite this problematic situation, I don’t find any of these circumstances to be compelling reasons to absorb the illegal immigrant community. If anything, it’s simply another reason the border needs to be secured – it will act as a deterrent to keep  individuals from coming here and getting stuck in a country that is increasingly unable to accommodate them. Many of them would, to be honest, be better off in Mexico, even though the general material conditions there are inferior. This isn’t merely my opinion, but the opinion of some illegals I’ve spoken with since being here. They recognize that their situation is untenable. They’re caught between a rock and a hard place.

To many, this is the rallying cry for open borders and social program solutions, but the fact is that these not only don’t work, we simply can’t afford them. Rather than raising the standard of living for illegals by letting them cozy up to the government teat, we’re slowly bringing the American standard of living down as we bankrupt ourselves as a nation with a system that is overburdened by hangers-on that can’t even make a contribution to the upkeep of that system.

It’s also worth noting that while most illegals are here to work – and are capable of working hard – I’ve seen plenty who are not “bad guys” but still show an astonishing lack of initiative. They live here for decades but don’t bother to learn English to better their career chances. They wait for a new immigration amnesty bill but do nothing to find sponsors to help them gain citizenship under the current rules. They think the American Dream is a handout, not an opportunity to do something for themselves by working their way up. And they blame it on us that their lot in life is so poor. The fact is, for many Mexicans, coming into the U.S. illegally is a very bad decision, financially and personally. But once they’re here, they tend to hang on, unwilling to go back and unable (or unwilling to do what it takes) to get ahead.

The entitlement mentality extends beyond expecting a government handout. No few Mexicans consider this area to be essentially stolen territory, American property only in virtue of the foolish decision of (thereafter deposed) Mexican President Santa Anna. It musn’t feel like much of a crime to break into what you believe is properly part of your own country. And it certainly doesn’t lead to anything like integration into the melting pot of America. Mexicans, by and large, tend to remain proudly nationalistic. Not exactly the seedbed of developing a strong American patriotism of the kind that marked the “melting pot” mentality of earlier U.S. immigrants.

But there is the other, more nefarious problem. Setting aside the salt-of-the-earth migrant worker illegal, who is often enough a decent, family-loving individual just trying to do better for those he loves, an un-policed border also brings incredibly dangerous individuals into our cities and towns. This is news to exactly no one. The extent of the problem, however, can definitely be surprising. The Tucson area, I’ve learned, is one of the country’s biggest corridors for narcotics and human trafficking. According to the Tucson Police Department, 70% of all illegal drugs that are imported into the United States enter through this city. Recent raids have also revealed that huge human smuggling networks operate across the Nogales border crossing (about an hour from here) and through Tucson into other states.

Arizona’s border is considered the most porous, but as bad as it is, we can’t even claim to be the worst example of the dangers of an open border. While Phoenix now follows only Mexico City as the kidnapping capital of the world – and the violence involved is disturbing – there are places on both sides of the border where journalists can’t even report on the spillover of Mexico’s growing cartel-state into the U.S. and residents can’t stay in their own homes and businesses without fears of lethal reprisals. As Mexico increasingly loses control of its territory to the highly dangerous organizations running the drug trade, the encroachment of Mexico across our southern border becomes an increasingly pressing concern. And for lack of space, we leave off an entire discussion about Islamic terrorists crossing into the U.S. through Mexico, which presents its own critical risk to national security.

The simple fact is that America’s Southern border must be defended. We need a deployment of National Guard troops, at least, to seal up the gaps and put a stop to Mexican military incursions into the U.S. The law in Arizona may be an example of a cat-out-of-the-bag police action, but it will definitely have a psychological deterrent effect on both illegals and those who hire them. It isn’t perfect, but fears of racial profiling strike me as overblown. The law has very sensible paramaters for law enforcement officials to establish “reasonable suspicion” that they are dealing with an illegal – and that only, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, “in the normal course of ‘lawful contact’ with a person, such as a traffic stop or if they have committed a crime.” While the obvious majority of suspicious persons in Arizona are going to be Hispanic, as state Sen. Russell Pearce said, “Illegal is not a race, it’s a crime.”

Something has to be done. This has long since moved beyond being about immigration. It’s about invasion. It’s about the financial and national security of our country. Both are in grave danger, and the clock is ticking.

Update: There’s a report today that Arizona legislators are making some tweaks to the law to make clear in which contexts law enforcement can seek to establish immigration status.

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Steve Skojec serves as the Director of Community Relations for a professional association. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he earned a BA in Communications and Theology. His passions include writing, photography, social media, and an avid appreciation of science fiction. Steve lives in Northern Virginia with his wife Jamie and their five children.

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