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Harsh Lessons and Border Choices

May 13, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Border Patrol


As Arizona's SB 1070 moves closer to the day of implementation (end of July), the press has begun to examine some of the economic impacts Arizona is beginning to experience or soon will be.


The National Council of La Raza and other organizations have called for a boycott of Arizona, and the Arizona Republic reports that the city of Phoenix alone may lose $90 million over the next five years from conventions that have either cancelled since the law passed or have expressed reservations and may cancel. 


Senator Robert Menendez earlier this week issued a statement urging the Major League Baseball Players Association to boycott the 2011 All Star game if it is not moved from Phoenix, where it is scheduled to take place.  Michael Weiner, executive director of the Players Association, has urged repeal of the law and suggested that, if it is not, the Association will consider "additional steps" to protect its members.


According to the Los Angeles Times, city officials in Los Angeles, who have called for a boycott of Arizona along with officials in other cities across the country, have identified $56 million in Arizona-based investments that may be re-examined.  For the future, officials "recommended that the City Council suspend travel to the state, refrain from entering new contracts, and review current ones for possible termination."


While the boycotts are mostly a future threat, Reuters reports that some of Arizona's 50,000 Latino-owned businesses have already taken a hit, as their customers change their habits or prepare to leave the state.  While supporters of the law would probably rejoice at that news, the state's economy suffers no matter the ethnic origin of the business owner.  The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce estimates the buying power of Latinos in Arizona to be more than $30 billion.  Economically, this law targets not just "illegal immigrants," and the Reuter's story points out that:


some business owners say the plunge in spending since the measure was passed has thrown the future of their firms into doubt and threatened the jobs of their legal immigrant and U.S.-citizen employees.


According to the New York Times, a spokesperson for Governor Brewer,


"called boycotting the state 'thoughtless and harmful' and said it was a distraction from the underlying issue of the federal government’s failure to control immigration and the border."


It was the Governor, however, who decided to follow immigration hard-liners and sign SB 1070 into law.  An alternative course would have been to press Arizona's congressional delegation, including Arizona's two Senators, to work for immigration reform at the federal level.  Politicians who pursue the more divisive path should not be surprised when the result is … divisiveness. They are putting their political careers ahead of their states' economies.


Speaking of distractions from the underlying issue, Arizona Senator John McCain, engaged in a primary race against immigration hardliner J.D. Hayworth, recently put out an ad claiming to show support for his "border plan" from a border sheriff.  The ad features McCain and Sheriff Paul Babeau walking along the border near Nogales, Arizona.  Sheriff Babeau, however, is from Pinal County, 115 miles north of the border.  Perhaps McCain had difficulty recruiting an actual border sheriff.  Law enforcement on the border tends to think that the hysteria about controlling the border is all politics.  Assistant Police Chief Roy Bermudez, who actually is from Nogales, recently told the Arizona Republic, "I think Nogales, Arizona, is one of the safest places to live in all of America."  Bermudez is not alone in his view of the border.  John David Franz, the Mayor of Hidalgo, Texas, a small town opposite the substantially larger Mexican city of Reynosa, reported yesterday than there has not been a single murder in Hidalgo in his 20 years as mayor, and the only kidnapping was by a registered sex offender from California.


Mayor Franz was in Washington on May 12 and 13 as part of a delegation of experts from the southwest border to brief Congressional staffers and the press on the border as seen by actual border residents.  Among the issues they raised:

  • The border is not "out of control."  Border residents and local elected officials reiterated the sentiment that the widespread perception of chaos at the border is primarily generated by politicians trolling for votes (the subject of ImmPolitic articles here and here).  From the perspective of actual border residents, backed up by federal statistics, crime is down and there is already plenty of border enforcement.  (One delegate noted that there are now 8.8 Border Patrol agents per mile along the entire southern border.) 

  • The lack of federal attention to the infrastructure at ports of entry is economically costly to border communities.  Rather than endless increases in security forces between the ports, border communities would rather see adequate staffing and renovations for the ports of entry.

  • More is not necessarily better.  The government needs to be more concerned about quality, not quantity.  Border security would be more effective if the government targeted the right people.  We now have thousands more Border Patrol agents than we did a few years ago.  They need to be better trained if they expect to gain the trust of community members.

  • It's the Border Patrol.  Why aren't they deployed on the border?  In some communities, Border Patrol agents roam through communities instead of being stationed on the border.  This results in significant police presence in the daily lives and activities of border residents, and this creates tension in the community.

It was refreshing to have the perspective of actual border residents in Washington.  Let's hope their perspective begins to be taken into account going forward as Congress considers border policy.


Image by Flickr user quinn.anya.

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