Two Years Later: Illegal Immigration in Arizona

A Socratic Dialogue between a Critic (CR) and an Advocate (AD) of SB 1070

November, 2012

CR: So, you live in Phoenix, Arizona?

AD: I do. And you’re here to ask me about…?

CR: SB 1070. Have its stringent enforcement policies and controversial efforts yielded benefits?

AD: I believe so. According to the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, several major Arizona cities have “experienced a 30-year low crime rate” since SB 1070 was enacted (qtd. in Pearce). Drug cartel killings and kidnappings have dramatically decreased, and the “state prison population is declining for the first time” (Pearce). The well-being of legal Arizonans must be protected, and just one of the merits of SB 1070 is a safer, stronger state.

CR: Interesting. But perhaps SB 1070 itself is not responsible for the substantial drop in crime rates. Perhaps the increased vigilance of police forces in the state has cautioned criminals into lying low. Once the controversy surrounding the law fades and the zealous enforcement subsides, however, might we expect a resurgence in misdemeanors? Shouldn’t Arizona emphasize stricter enforcement of drug cartel and kidnapping laws instead of devoting its energies to upholding an immigration law?

AD: Illegal immigration is inextricably tied to criminal activity. An estimated 80 to 95 percent of illegal immigrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border are brought over by “coyotes,” human smugglers that require fees from their customers in return for passage to the States (McNeill et al.). If clients fail to pay, kidnapping, human trafficking, injury, or even murder may ensue. Tightening border control and discouraging immigration has reduced violence against illegal immigrants by diminishing dangerous crossings and stemming the smuggling business.

CR: What of those still determined to come? The new laws make it even more difficult for them to enter America. Smugglers who are out of business will require even higher fees from desperate migrants; illegal immigrants will be forced to take more dangerous routes hidden from law enforcers (McNeill et al.). Why should Americans allow fellow humans to jeopardize their lives to fulfill dreams or escape persecution? Doesn’t that contradict the very premise of American freedom?

AD: Those immigrants can “fulfill dreams” legally. They can “escape persecution” legally. Millions wait to legally enter the U.S. every year. An increasing illegal population forces those who apply for green cards and visas to wait longer. Illegal immigrants delay other immigrants’ aspirations.

CR: But most illegal immigrants don’t have a chance of entering the U.S. by legal means. There is “virtually no process for unskilled immigrants without relations in the U.S. to apply for permanent legal residence” (Flynn and Dalmia). Employers are banned by both federal law and SB 1070 from hiring illegal immigrants, even though work is often the only pathway to documentation. Many who desire better lives and greater economic opportunities are barred by the government from achieving legal status in America.

AD: That may be true, but granting amnesty to illegal immigrants feeds that vicious cycle. Permitting illegal immigration leads to less legal immigration, which in turn leads to more illegal immigration. It may seem paradoxical, but to grant greater equality and better chances to illegal immigrants, we must first level the playing field for those seeking to enter legally.

CR: Touché. But even if instituting harsh policies now will allow more people to enter in the long run, won’t short-term “attrition” of illegal immigration hurt the already weak Arizona economy? Though illegal immigrants may not pay taxes, they still contributed about “8 percent of the state’s economic output” in 2004 and held around 280,000 full-time jobs in 2008, before SB 1070 was signed into law (University of Arizona study, qtd. in “Illegal”).

AD: On the contrary, an exodus of illegal immigrants would provide legal residents job opportunities and boost Arizona’s economy. As Gallup economist Dennis Jacobe observed, allowing companies to hire cheaper illegal labor mirrors corporate outsourcing to countries like China and India. Reducing the number of undocumented employees opens up economic opportunities for tax-paying, legal workers, raising wages and invigorating the economy.

CR: Many legal residents would be unwilling to take those vacant “economic opportunities,” however. Princeton sociologist Doug Massey predicts that few will accept work at the same pay illegal immigrants did: “The wages you would have to pay to get somebody to go out in the desert and harvest watermelons would make watermelons uncompetitive in markets” (qtd. in Kurtzleben).

AD: I see your point. But diminishing illegal employment in Arizona “boosts pay and conditions for other workers” and encourages transparency in state businesses (Kurtzleben). The low wages given to illegal workers create unwanted competition at deplorable recompense; SB 1070 helps curb that sort of competition and provides a fairer workplace for citizens, residents, and legal immigrants. Furthermore, SB 1070 reduces the burden illegal immigrants place on legal taxpayers. Illegal immigrants send their children to public schools, borrow from city libraries, occupy state prisons, and use other public services without contributing taxes themselves. Reducing illegal immigration will not only open up higher paying jobs for legal workers, it will lessen the tax money spent on people who do not pay to access public services and facilities.

CR: Okay, so maybe Arizona’s law does benefit legal immigrants and citizens, economically and socially. But you still haven’t convinced me of its consideration for illegal immigrants. Not only are they still barred from legal job opportunities in the U.S., they are constantly on the run from smugglers demanding payment and Arizona police pushing deportation. In addition, SB 1070 has received national attention for the unprecedented power it gives to local law enforcers. Any officer who harbors “reasonable suspicion” that someone is “an alien” can make a “reasonable attempt […] to determine the immigration status” of that person (“Senate Bill” 1). This clause has been brought before the U.S. Supreme Court with charges of racial profiling. Many believe that the phrases “reasonable attempts” and “suspicions” invite subjective discrimination.

AD: That is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and disputed portions of the Arizona law. Governor Jan Brewer states that SB 1070 is a “secondary enforcement” law – an official must have a “reasonable suspicion that [someone] is breaking some other law before [he] can ask a person about their [sic] legal status” (1). Inquiries about immigration status, therefore, cannot stem from racial discrimination; searches must be based on normal suspicions of criminal activity.

CR: If that’s true, most of the country, including prominent politicians such as the 2012 presidential candidates, misconstrue a critical provision of SB 1070. Most still perceive the law as an extreme means to ignoble ends. In the second presidential debate, President Obama claimed that “part of the Arizona law said that law enforcement officers could stop folks because they suspected maybe they looked like they might be undocumented workers and check their papers,” an unfounded claim, according to Governor Brewer’s statement (“Presidential”). In response to an accusation for backing the “reasonable suspicion” clause, Romney declared that he “did not say that Arizona law was a model for the nation in that aspect” (“Presidential”). To satisfy moderate voters and distance themselves from accusations of ethnic profiling, both Obama and Romney denied support for the Arizona law. How can the security and economic benefits of SB 1070 be reaped honorably if many nationwide still do not understand its basic intent?

AD: Law enforcers and advocates of the bill must abide by and publicize the “secondary enforcement” nature of SB 1070 (Brewer 1). They must emphasize that discrimination cannot play a role in detentions or arrests. They must also state that SB 1070 is not a catch-all solution to state and federal immigration problems; it is only a statute meant to help mitigate crime-related and economic issues caused by the growing illegal population.

CR: I see. SB 1070 should not be the only type of response to our broken immigration system. So, along with enacting stricter illegal immigration measures like Arizona’s law, would you support reforming the legal process to give greater opportunities to impoverished and persecuted foreigners?

AD: Absolutely. A clearer legal immigration system must be coupled with uncompromising illegal immigration laws to ensure safer and better futures for citizens, legal residents, and applicants for legal immigration.

CR: That is indubitable—I wholeheartedly agree.

As of June 2012, the United States Supreme Court has upheld the “reasonable suspicion” clause of SB 1070, but has struck down the provision prohibiting illegal immigrants from seeking work in Arizona, the provision requiring illegal immigrants to carry their alien registration documents, and the provision authorizing officers to arrest immigrants with “probable cause.” The decision will hopefully serve as a catalyst for further action on the immigration problem.


Works Consulted

Arizona Forty-Ninth Legislature. “Senate Bill 1070.” State of Arizona., 2010. PDF file.

Brewer, Janice K. “Common Myths and Facts Regarding Senate Bill 1070.”Office of the Arizona Governor Janice K.

Brewer., 2012. PDF file.

CBS News. “Illegal Immigrants Leaving Arizona over New Law.” CBS News. CBS Interactive Inc., 29 Apr. 2010. Web. 28 Oct. 2012.

Dalmia, Shikha, Mike Flynn, and Terry Colon. “What Part of Legal Immigration Don’t You Understand?” Reason Oct. 2008: 33. Web. 28 Oct. 2012.

Gallup Business Journal. “The Real Impact of Illegal Immigration.” Gallup Business Journal. Gallup, Inc., 14 Sept. 2006. Web. 28 Oct. 2012.

Kurtzleben, Danielle. “Arizona Businesses Hope to Put SB 1070 Behind Them.” U.S. News. U.S. News & World Report, 25 June 2012. Web. 28 Oct. 2012.

McNeill, Jena Baker, Ray Walser, and Jessica Zuckerman. “The Human Tragedy of Illegal Immigration: Greater Efforts

Needed to Combat Smuggling and Violence.” The Heritage Foundation. The Heritage Foundation, 22 June 2012. Web. 28 Oct. 2012.

Pearce, Russell. “Arizona’s Immigration Law is Consitutional—and Already Working.” U.S. News. U.S. News & World Report, 23 Apr. 2012. Web. 28 Oct. 2012.

Politico. “Presidential Debate Transcript, Questions.” Politico. Politico, 16 Oct. 2012. Web. 28 Oct. 2012.

Wall Street Journal. “Court Splits on Arizona Law.” Wall Street Journal. Wall Street Journal, 25 June 2012. Web. 22 December 2012.


persuasive writing by Kathleen Wu, age 14
2014 Gold Key, American Voices Nominee
BASIS Scottsdale, Scottsdale

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