First, let me refute the claims Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) made on Countdown with Keith Olbermann Monday night.
1. The Penalizing Status and Not Conduct Charge
Gutierrez: "Because, as you have stated—look, when the police intervene with me
or with you or with anyone, it should be on the basis of our conduct, our
behavior. Not the country they suspect we came from and whether or not we
were born here or not. That—I‘ll tell you something, the criminal
element, those human smugglers, the drug dealers, the rapists, those that are causing so much damage in Arizona and across this country, they‘ve got
to be happy with this law, because what is going to happen is—the eyes,
the ears, that the police need so much of the community in general, so that hey can combat crime, they‘re going to—they‘re going to cause a division between the people in the population and the police department."
Arizona's new immigration law was crafted, however, imperfectly, to target "conduct" or "behavior" - illegal immigration. Those who follow our immigration law are rewarded with a job, health benefits, and education within our public school system. Those who do not at minimum live with the fear that they may be pulled over by a police offer, separated from his or her family members, detained, and ultimately removed from the United States involuntarily at a moment's notice. No one is born illegal. An immigrant can choose whether he or she will respect the host country's immigration laws and request approval for a visa before making the trek, or whether he or she will ignore the host country's immigration laws, evade the legally appointed authorities, and sneak across the borders.
Representative Gutierrez says our immigration laws should target behavior and "not the country they suspect we come from and whether or not we were born here or not."
The two sets of criteria cannot be so easily separated when the identification of the behavior (in this case illegal immigration) requires some knowledge concerning the latter (whether or not the person belongs here because or she was either born here or given papers authorizing his or her stay here).
Those who supported the law in Arizona overreached. In practice, their law will unfairly target anyone of color, whether he or she is legally residing within the state or not, and for that particular reason, Gutierrez is right. The law unfairly targets people on account of their perceived race or color. A Mark Furman might pull an individual to the side because he or she does not like people with darker skin. As a general rule, police officers who harbor no animus or prejudice towards ethnic minorities will be pressured into pulling a Hispanic over on the off-chance that he or she is an illegal immigrant. The white or African American will get the benefit of the doubt that a Hispanic American would not.
Gutierrez, however, misinformed Keith Olbermann's viewers by failing to acknowledge that illegal immigration describes conduct which the country wishes to discourage and not an ethnic trait which is to be celebrated.
2. The Illegal as a Scapegoat
You know, I think they understand that the Latino community isn‘t going anywhere. Those that have come under desperate straits are probably going to say, what you‘re going to do is you‘re going to push them further underground and allow them to be even further exploited in the condition that they‘re in. But I think what it really is—it‘s the easy out, right? It‘s like, let‘s blame someone. You know, we have a failing foreclosure system with homes going in foreclosure. We have a high unemployment. The educational system really isn‘t serving our children well. You know what? Why don‘t we just go against—after those immigrants?
Actually, the Arizonans who passed and support this law are placing the blame where it belongs - the illegal immigrants. They, and this nation in general, have every right to expect those who want to live here to respect our laws, including no doubt, the law concerning how one is to immigrate into this country. The Arizonans aren't blaming illegal immigrants for the housing foreclosures. They are blaming the illegal immigrants for some of the crime, as well as the burden on the school system (increases in population lead to the higher taxes needed to hire more teachers and build more schools), and on the hospitals (hospitals lose money on Charity Care, particularly when states are looking to make cuts to balance their budgets).
Gutierrez says these illegal immigrants won't be going anywhere. He's probably right because our country has failed to enforce this country's laws. The Republicans don't want to offend the Chamber of Commerce or any of the businesses that profit by exploiting the cheap labor and neither party wants to offend the Hispanic Americans they are courting for the November elections. Our government should be imposing high fines on those which employ illegal immigrants and it should be conducting frequent raids on facilities suspected of employing them so that they can be rounded up and deported.
In the meantime, the government should not be in the business of making an illegal immigrant's life easier. Doing so will only encourage further illegal immigration while rewarding their bad behavior. The exploitation which illegal immigrants face is one of their own doing. They dug their own graves. When confronted with the choice of immigrating legally or immigrating illegally, they chose the latter when they could have chosen the former.
3. Ethnic Heritage: The Irish/Italian Comparison
Gutierrez: "And I‘ve got to say this. Look, it‘s not new. This is pretty old stuff. When the Irish came here, oh, they talked about crime and how it was going to be terrible in America. And the Italians, when they came at the turn of the century in 1910 and 1920s, they said, only by the rule of law could we ever help to contain these people, referring to Italian immigrants in New York City.So, look, they accused the Italians of crime. They accused the Irish of crime. They were wrong about them and they‘re wrong about us today. It‘s an old trick to divert attention about the real pressing issues that the American public wants us to deal with."
OLBERMANN: "My ancestors got it the same way during the First World War, Germans, Poles and Russians. So, it‘s universal to us and it‘s terrifying that some people don‘t seem to understand that it‘s—that it is the same thing, as you point out."
Here Mr. Gutierrez and Mr. Olbermann are conflating illegal immigration with legal immigration. The Irish and Italian Americans were process by United States Immigration and Naturalization Service at several locations, most prominently among them, Ellis Island. Yes, the Hispanic Americans face some of the same contempt and prejudice White Anglo-Saxon Protestants directed at Irish and Italian American immigrants. Some of it is deserved. Some of it is not. It is deserved when the immigrant sneaks across our borders or when the immigrant overstays his or her visit and fails to apply for a renewal. It is undeserved when the immigrant followed the legal process.
The immigrant who follows the immigration process may appeal may compare themselves to the Irish and Italian-American immigrants that came before them. The immigrant who sneaked across the border can not.