Let Cooler Heads Prevail: Arizona’s Immigration Law

In recent weeks there has been a lot of news about SB 1070 — The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act — enacted by Arizona. The law brings into focus the need for immigration reform, but other than that, the reaction to the law has been hysterical, over the top, and often grossly inaccurate.

Some of the claims seem to suggest that Arizona is about to turn into a police state.

Better to Keep Your Mouth Shut and …

I would encourage anyone criticizing the law to read the text before launching into a critique. First, nothing in the text of the law gives law enforcement officials the right or power to stop, question, arrest, and detain any individual they suspect may be in the U.S. illegally. That can only happen if a person has been detained because they are suspected of a crime or a violation of the law, such as a traffic violation when identification is asked for. Even then it’s debatable that they will do so. Phoenix has among the lowest ratios of public-safety officers to residents (3.3 per 1,000. New York has 6.5) among major cities in America. The police likely have enough to do as it is. It’s doubtful that they’ll suddenly stop everything else they’re doing and start detaining anyone who looks Hispanic.

Many cities and groups are planning boycotts of Arizona. That tends to be more talk than action. Speeches about boycotts play well to the cameras, but the record shows that not much happens when the lenses are turned away. Despite all the populist anger at certain Middle Eastern countries and Venezuela, we continue to do business with them. And of course, we aren’t exactly going to stop trading with China despite the People’s Republic having such a stellar record on human rights. Business contracts are generally written for the long-term, and with supply chains extending around the world, attempting to disrupt them over some ill-conceived outrage is unlikely to be supported by most executives. Tourism boycotts may occur, but they are not likely to be widespread either. Centuries of systematic discrimination against native populations in Mexico and Canada have not prevented legions of Americans from vacationing in Cancun and Vancouver. If anything, the opposite may happen: if SB 1070 results in lower crime in Arizonan cities, they’re more likely to attract both tourists and business.

Hypocrites of the World Unite

Press coverage of this law has been rather disingenuous, especially given that this type of legislation is the norm in other countries. It would be utterly hypocritical of citizens of most other countries to claim any outrage over SB 1070. In France, Germany, and much of Western Europe, laws applying to immigrants carry even more stringent provisions. Japanese law requires that all foreigners must carry an alien registration card at all times and present it to the police without any reason when requested. Failure to do so results in a $2,000 fine. The French police have the right to stop and question anyone suspected of being in the country illegally, at any time, and not just in the context of another violation of the law. Discrimination against foreigners from certain countries is the norm in Europe. In Switzerland and Austria, being from an Eastern European or Middle Eastern country means an automatic premium for most types of insurance. Those practice have not resulted in boycotts of French wines, Japanese cars, or Swiss Army knives.

In short then, not much is likely to happen, beyond some people getting dyspepsia.

Article Continues Below

The Problem with Immigration (policy, that is)

Our immigration policy is a mess. Much of what we have today has its roots in conditions after the end of the second world war. The most visible problem has to do with who’s eligible to immigrate. It’s either a lottery, or primarily based on unifying families. Most other countries give preference to people with needed skills or specific talents. Ours barely touches on that. Eligibility for H1-B visas is equally applicable to hairstylists and software engineers. The number of visas is arbitrarily decided, with no basis in demand for skills. This makes no sense at all.

Much of the anger toward illegal immigrants is directed at migrant workers, primarily working in construction and agriculture. Admittedly there are employers seeking to exploit labor from across the border, but the evidence shows that such employers are a tiny minority. Studies going back decades show that much of the labor from Mexico and South America works in areas where there just are not enough domestic workers available. The argument that’s usually made is that if only employers would pay a high-enough wage, then Americans would be willing to take those jobs. That is not an accurate assessment of the situation. For one, margins in agriculture are extremely low, and most producers have no capacity to raise their prices to counter the effect of paying more wages. Forcing them to pay higher wages will only result in more agriculture being done overseas as is already happening. Second, even with 9.7% unemployment, those who are out of work are not looking for jobs working in fields. Third, even if there were higher wages available, is that what most people aspire to, mind-numbing manual labor?

The solutions to the problem have been available for a long time: a guest worker visa for agricultural workers, and a change in immigration policy to favor the more talented workers. But it doesn’t seem likely this will happen anytime soon.

SB 1070 reflects Arizonans’ frustration with the federal government’s lack of action on immigration. Regardless of who’s to blame, nothing has been done to address the problem. A state cannot pass laws on immigration reform on its own, but it can enforce what’s already there. This is all the more reason that the reaction to the law is odd, considering that some 70% of Arizonans support it. Since we live in a democracy, Arizona’s lawmakers are only responding to the will of the people — which is presumably what they were elected to do. I’m all for immigration reform, as I’ve written on many an occasion on ERE, but I would not attempt to substitute my judgment for that of about 5 million Arizonans.

Raghav Singh, director of analytics at Korn Ferry Futurestep, has developed and launched multiple software products and held leadership positions at several major recruiting technology vendors. His career has included work as a consultant on enterprise HR systems and as a recruiting and HRIT leader at several Fortune 500 companies. Opinions expressed here are his own.


34 Comments on “Let Cooler Heads Prevail: Arizona’s Immigration Law

  1. Thanks Raghav! You continue to be a “voice of reason”, and I commend you for taking on a “hot topic” on this “occasionaly emotional” ERE community…

    I LOVE this country, and I Pray more people appreciated the blessings in there lives, especially the ones in USA…

    Take care, Brian-

  2. Actually, Raghav, the statute not only permits police officers to request papers from those stopped for reasonable cause of committing some other violation, it requires them to do so during all “lawful contact(s)…where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an (illegal immigrant).”

    And to justify this incredible enlargement of police powers by pointing to countries that conservatives have long bashed as lacking in liberty is bewildering. I find it incredible that the same people who advocated changing the name of “French fries” to “freedom fries” are not holding up France as an example of what we should become. Lest we forget that only six decades ago France was one of the most egregious collaborators with Nazi efforts to cleanse the world of every so-called race and creed that they disliked.

  3. – For the Democrats the illegal of today is the voter of tomorrow.

    – For the big businesses it is cheap labor.

    – Also, what looks as cheap labor is actually not cheap at all – we might pay less money for fruits & vegetables grown by an illegal immigrant, but as he is making very little money and pays almost no taxes, we pay in high taxes to educate his kids, takes care of him when he visits an hospital, and the likes.

    – It seems that no one cares about what the consequences of the broken immigration policy are to America. It is time we the citizens take some action.

  4. Great article Raghav! If you wouldn’t have composed it, I wanted to myself. Very well said.

  5. Steven- You are a smart guy, we are facebook friends, I highly respect your opinion, You are right about that.. (violating human/civil rights!)

    Unless you live/work/hire/fire in a “border state” in the Southwest region of USA, (Which I do/San Diego area) I trust you understand how “crippling” this issue is for our communities…

    The Federal GOVT has taken little action (failed), and the people of AZ overwhelimghly have spoken… Just like they did when Obama won the presidency…

    Best to ALL… Brian-

  6. As a legal immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen, and one who has lived in Arizona for 18 yrs, I am well aware of the problems that led up to the new state law and its many flaws. John McCain & George Bush put sensible immigration reform on the table back in 2004, and Congress DID NOTHING but argue as usual. I support Arizona’s decision to secure its own border and DO SOMETHING. This article sheds more light and less heat on the situation. Wish I had written it.

  7. Brian,

    I have a lot of family in Arizona and visit there a couple of times a year. I do understand how crippling this issue has become for that border state and the others and I find it reprehensible how the federal government has failed to deal with this problem for decades. This isn’t just a problem with the current Congress and administration but has been a problem shared by both parties.

    But this action isn’t the right approach. Regardless of what the Arizona legislature, governor, and apologists would like to claim, this is all about singling out people based upon their race and we should be better than that. When people claim that the law now prohibits racial profiling, great, but how is it that a police officer is supposed to make a determination that someone appears to be an illegal immigrant? What exactly does an illegal immigrant look like or what is it that they would be doing that would justify a police officer stopping them and asking them for their papers?

  8. Yep, Steven you are right about that, there MUST be a better way… My Son is the only “white kid” on his Club Soccer team in Southern, CA, and the thought of our team traveling to AZ, for a tournament (which we have) to have my ALL “extended family members” being searched without just cause makes my “blood boil”..

    I like this conversation, we ALL need to LOVE one another, the “pin heads” in DC benefit from this, I trust people are starting to understand that…

    Raghav and Steven, you are my HERO’S for today for standing up for what they believe in!

    Blessings, Brian-

  9. Wow. Not only do people not read the law, apparently they don’t read the article they’re commenting on either. Go figure.

  10. Steven the problem is illegal immigration, regardless of the individual’s race, ethnicity or country of origin. You are making a huge assumption here as are most of the opponents. The issue has been that when law enforcement has made a legal traffic stop or arrest, there is nothing they can do to take action regarding illegal immigrants. Now they will have that tool. Let’s not forget the real intent behind the legislation is to discourage illegal immigration to begin with,not waste law enforcement’s time chasing down American citizens just for the heck of it.

    I don’t go anywhere without my ID. If I’m pulled over for a traffic stop, the first thing the officer will do is ask me for my license and my insurance information. When I use my credit card, I am often asked to show ID. I show ID to board a plane. In Hawaii, you are required to have ID on you at anytime you order alcohol, regardless of your age or how old you may look. And yes, when I have traveled to other counties, I keep my passport on me at all times as I want to ensure that I can prove that I am there legally for legitimate business or vacation reasons. You fill out questionnaires to that effect on the plane when you travel abroard, including information on your length of stay. Asking people is nothing new in any society and I am baffled as to why we should not expect same of anyone here in our state, legally and illegally.

    By accusing the state of putting this law into effect for racial reasons is to reverse profile.

  11. Yes, Kim, illegal immigration is a huge, huge problem, but let’s remember that the controversy about this law isn’t that it allows the police to ask for immigration ID (not just driver’s license as that’s not evidence of immigration status) after you’ve potentially committed a crime but it instead REQUIRES the policy to ask for your papers whether or not they suspect you of having committed another crime.

    Do you plan to keep your birth certificate or passport on you at all times when you’re in Arizona? If not, is it because you don’t “look” like an illegal immigrant or because you don’t feel that legal residents should have to carry such papers around with them?

  12. Yes, I carry my DL on me at all times which I am not supposed to have in this state unless I am a citizen or have a visa. Again, the real controversy is that people, and mostly those that don’t read the bill, have made this about race (as usual) instead of addressing the real issue, which is illegal immigration. And yes, when I traveled to Mexico, even before passports were required, I carried my birth certificate on me.

    When I have traveled to foreign countries I know I definitely have stood out at times, especially being an American with blonde hair in an Asian country, such as India and China. I am especially careful in those situations and respect the local laws and customs of those countries. And yes, I have been harassed at Mexican airports as well.

    Hispanics in Arizona do not stand out. And by the way, Mexicans are not the only illegal populution we have here. Trust me, law enforcement does not have the time or resources to run down everyone they even suspect of being illegal, let alone Americans just walking the streets. They have plenty on their hands with drop houses and drug runners alone. The abuse and extortion illegal aliens and their families receive at the hands of the coyotes are far worse than what people are crying about over this bill. Where is the outrage over that?

    Again, let’s focus on the real issues and deal with consequences as they arise. If six months from now Arizona if running rampant with renegade law enforcement, I’ll revisit your claims. In the meantime, I hope that it does do its job and just discourages illegal entry to begin with.

  13. I echo the many thanks you have received Raghav. The pro illegal crowd has nothing to stand on so instead they use emotions and hearsay as they cry and moan.

    It is too bad the Federal Government has either granted amnesty or passed the buck since the Reagan years. The willy nilly way the Fed “control our borders” has been and continues to be a joke.

  14. Raghav – Excellent (per usual).

    Steve, HALF of France was complicit with the Nazis. We were too, to the extent like most others, ignoring some very blatent warning signs, then turning away a shipload of refugees.

    Amir – a vast majority of illegals are young, healthy, and pay taxes via someone elses (usually diseased) SS #

    Raghav – Love your comparison to China – just did a seminar
    last night, and they are currently putting down 100k riots a year, their huge military of no threat to anyone, they need them to keep order within.
    50k (inflated to 300k by promoters) protested on May Day in LA (vs. up to 1.5 Mil. in recent years) as most know the law is just and overdue, and you won’t get pulled over for sporting a summer tan. The liberal print media reported a ‘Slight majority’ supported the Bill. Break that down, 51% support the Bill as such,
    9% support even stronger measures, and only 30-34% are against, in 3 polls. ‘Slight majority when its almost 2 to 1 nation wide. Another this AM was closer but haven’t broken it down yet. You can’t trust the media, not even on polls anymore.
    Puerto Rico (HR2499)statehood is being pushed again, depsite residents turning it down 3x since 1991. Maybe we could end the problems by annexing Mexico like German did E. Germany with their strong backing of terroists (somewhat akin to drug wars in Mexico)
    Laws are on the books already to cut down illegals 90%, but not enforced. Immigration reform (don’t get mad just yet) means a pathway to citizenship, which I do approve given certain requirements. I wonder who is doing the jobs left open afte 200k left AZ in ’09 (360k left)?
    My solution, adopt them. I have 3 I legalized, Julio, Maria and Phillip (from the Philippines), plus a gang of others – the best looking, smartest ‘kids’ (37-57) in the word as they are all adopted.
    Best, Jon

  15. IMHO, when you just scratch away the the veneer of reasoned discourse, you get to something like this:

    Joseph Palmi: Let me ask you something… we Italians, we got our families, and we got the church; the Irish, they have the homeland, Jews their tradition; even the n*****s, they got their music. What about you people, Mr. Wilson, what do you have?
    Edward Wilson: The United States of America. The rest of you are just visiting.

    “The Good Shepherd”, 2006


    Not for much *longer, Mr. Wilson, and that just drives some people crazy.



  16. Using a bigot as a benchmark. Now there’s an idea! I’ll bet someone can run an entire campaign with that concept.

  17. Mr. Singh, thank you so much for this article. I was incensed when I read the previous ERE article, as I live in Arizona, and I knew a lot of what it contained was just not true. I wanted to respond to it, but was too angry to do it justice, so I appreciate your well-written attempt to put it in the proper perspective.

    Your comments about the ineffectiveness of a boycott are so true, and may I add that they have actually helped us in some respects, as there is a move on now called a “buycott” – encouraging those who support the bill to buy or trade with Arizona in retaliation of the boycott. This movement may actually have a larger impact than the original boycott was intended to have – ironic, isn’t it?

    Again, thank you for an excellent, well-researched article.

  18. Raghav great article.

    When times were better we could afford to have more open borders. Now it is just too expensive to deliver health, education and services for non-contributors.

    I look at the AZ bill as a message or stake in the ground that the welcome mat has been pulled.

    Then the issue is with 11 million illegal visitors in this country…how do we determine who stays and who leaves? Naturally the criminals are the easiest to turn back but living in some of our prisons is better than the lives they are often running from.

    Unless you never leave your house and whether you know it or not we all have illegal friends (major cities). So if they ever clean up immigration laws it will be filled with a lot of exceptions. But bring it on.

    Kudos to Jonathan for being a great supporter of the human race!

  19. Thank the lord for Raghav. Plain and simple; great writing and well laid out. Clearly ERE’s second best writer.

    Now one or 2 things to consider.

    We can’t have anyone who is illegal remain in this country because it is illegal for them to be here. This is not a complex judicial issue.

    To those who wish to come to the United States, I urge you to understand that you simply cannot say that you want to live here, you love the United States, you want a better life for your kids but screw your laws, I am coming in anyway and my first act on American soil is to break your law with impunity. You can’t simply write your own ticket as we are a nation of laws.

    Personally, I want all illegals out. Those from Russia, those from Israel, those from China, those from Mexico, and those from Mars. If you wish to come to this country, do it legally and you are welcome. Do it illegally and you need to go.

    To those who disagree I must say this; If you see defending our laws as racist and bigoted, you are simply incorrect and I for one find that type of name calling to be the last bastion of desperate rhetoric. (Kind of like calling a person a racist if they do not Like Obama.) Honestly, to call a person a racist because they disagree is pitiful.

    As an aside, this is not a partisan issue. Our government, both parties, over the last 20 years have failed miserably in creating intelligent and effective immigration. For that failure, we are all paying the price. Sadly, Arizona must be the first state to enforce existing legislation that our government is either unwilling or unable to enforce.

  20. Howard, WELL SAID! Make no mistake about it, our federal government is broken. Other than mismanage everthing they try to manage, that is all they are good at. There needs to be a major shake up and it can’t happen to soon.

  21. Thank you John McCain along with the Federal Government for not doing your job in AZ. And thank you John McCain, for your pathetic presidential campaign allowing the bomb Obama and his cronnies to run amuck like a gushing oil hole. Of course if your campaign was successful, it would have further exposed your incompetence at the highest level.

  22. Whatever you want to say about McCain, presidential politics aside, he was once a great senator. I lived in AZ 18 yrs & voted for him twice. In 2004, he put a sensible immigration reform bill on the table complete with guest worker program and path to citizenship; this bill had the full support of President W Bush. It got voted down by partisan politics & the gridlock of a Congress hellbent on grandstanding its ideology over common sense & implementing practical solutions – which involves compromise (a 4-letter word inside the Beltway). And whatever you want to say about the AZ state law, it does deal with the problem while the Fed gov’t continues to do nothing. I do agree it’s time for a major shake up, and if the AZ state law serves as a wake up call then so be it.

  23. “Once a great senator”? I guess he didn’t have to do his job all the time. Oh, that’s right he is a government employee he doesn’t have job! As far as I am concerned he is part of the problem not the solution. I hope he has a good conservative challenger. Also I never said anything derogatory about the AZ law-in fact I support it! So do you vote the same way you read my email by reading into something I never mentioned?

  24. My apologies for any misunderstanding Barry, comments not directed at you personally, rather thread comment in general and I said you & I are in agreement. As for “once a great senator” maybe you can agree that McCain changed dramatically during his last run for Pres, that’s when he lost me. He was obviously replaced by a pod-alien.

  25. No problem Sylvia! We agree more than disagree. However anyone can disagree with me and I am sure a lot do. A pod-alien-I like it(pretty funny) and I agree he changed but not for the good of AZ or this country. Unfortunately our country suffers greatly from a lack of proper leadership and it shows-everywhere! I find it very funny that CA wants to boycott AZ. So what’s the bad news in that? The state would be better off for it! CA government $40Billion in debt. I say keep their stupidity in CA and out of AZ for the good of AZ!

    Our supposedly great universities like Harvard are turning out intellectual leaders of this Country like Obama? Is this something they are proud of? They probably are I am not impressed. If there is hope for this country, it won’t come from the likes of the Harvard educated Obama mentality. And what about the educated voting public or lack thereof, that can be so easily mis-led by cheap talk. However I must admit the other party didn’t put up a candidate that was a whole lot better. It wasn’t much of a choice but there was a choice. In my younger years, I used to think that because a person went to college, was a government employee or politician that the person was smart. Well I could not have been more wrong!

  26. Immigration: Facts vs. Rhetoric – What’s at stake for Arizona’s tourism industry?


    This event is sponsored by Phoenix Business Journal as the AZ tourist industry braces for adverse impact. It won’t be long before the Chamber of Commerce hosts s similar event on how to attract new businesses/jobs to the state in the wake of the backlash against the new state law.

    It will also be interesting to see if certain employers relocate offices out of state when their leases expire, taking all those call center jobs with them.

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