Making the immigration problem worse

Making the immigration problem worse

- in Progressive Voices

In a hyper-partisan era characterized by failures of leadership across the board, perhaps no single issue illustrates government gridlock better than immigration. Everyone knows that our current immigration system is broken. Year after year, proposals to help fix the system have been introduced in Washington, only to die without ever taking effect. Understandably, many states feel they have been left no choice but to take action themselves.

So far, Arizona is the most famous test case for what happens when a state tries to take immigration policy into its own hands. Here in North Carolina, some state legislators are intent on following Arizona’s lead. With nearly 20 bills introduced in the General Assembly that aim to crack down on immigrants – including one directly modeled after Arizona – it’s time for North Carolinians to decide if this is really the best way to move forward.

It’s been one year since the controversial SB 1070 immigration law was signed into law in Arizona. Supporters claimed that it would:

  • Open jobs formerly held by undocumented workers to American workers and lower the unemployment rate;
  • Realize savings in areas such as education, social services, law enforcement and medical care;
  • Cause a decrease of crime rates for identity theft, larceny, and other crimes;
  • Attract more people to move to Arizona because “it’s safer.”

In fact, we now know that the impact of SB 1070 could not have been more damaging to the state. The public outcry over this kind of “show me your papers” law has been felt across the country. Over the last year, Arizona has seen:

  • A loss of population;
  • A loss of businesses and business investment;
  • A loss of reputation as a friendly place – damaging a vital tourism industry;
  • Increased home, apartment and commercial vacancy rates;
  • Increased social and political division;
  • Unstable state government and business climate.

In addition, the federal government has won several court battles challenging this kind of legislation – battles for which Arizona taxpayers have had to foot the bill.

This spring, businesses across the state joined together (successfully) to force Arizona’s legislature to hit the brakes on additional immigration-related bills. An open letter from business leaders stated:

“Arizona’s lawmakers and citizens are right to be concerned about illegal immigration. But we must acknowledge that when Arizona goes it alone on this issue, unintended consequences inevitably occur…  Arizona-based businesses saw contracts cancelled or were turned away from bidding. Sales outside of the state declined. Even a business which merely had ‘Arizona’ in its name felt the effects of the boycotts, compelling them to launch an educational campaign about their company’s roots in Brooklyn.”

Closer to home, there was a recent attempt to change the Charter of the City of Nashville, Tennessee to make all government communications English-only. Many business, government and faith leaders quickly realized that such a proposal was unnecessary, bad for business, bad for tourism, a waste of taxpayer dollars and inconsistent with their values. Some business leaders issued public statements saying that they might not have chosen Nashville if the law had been in effect.  Ultimately, the amendment failed to win a popular vote and Nashville remains the thriving and welcoming city that it has been for generations.

North Carolina faces many serious challenges right now, and we’re in no position to make them worse. Unauthorized immigration is a federal problem with a federal solution. We can be grateful that Arizona and Nashville have given us hard evidence that demonstrates the ineffectiveness of new punitive state and local laws. We need our lawmakers to focus on creating jobs and making North Carolina competitive and successful in the global economy of the 21st century, not the ugly politics of immigrant scapegoating.

At the North Carolina Council of Churches, we hear every day about how our broken immigration system is tearing apart families, hurting small businesses, and driving people deeper into the shadows. At the same time, we hear in our faith traditions the calling to love our neighbors, to treat everyone with respect, and specifically to welcome immigrants in our midst.  During Holy Week, we co-sponsored the annual Pilgrimage for Justice & Peace, in which people walked across the state as visible signs of peace and unity.

We’ve long supported comprehensive reforms to the system that would help families stay together and reward honest employers who want to do things the right way.  Unfortunately, we are still waiting to see bipartisan cooperation and leadership on this issue in Washington. We’ve seen what happens when states take matters into their own hands, and it isn’t pretty. In this time of economic uncertainty, we don’t need our state legislators building roadblocks to North Carolina’s future as a global leader.

Chris Liu-Beers is a Program Associate at the North Carolina Council of Churches