The Problem with Utah’s Immigration Law

What is wrong with Utah’s new immigration law

That isn’t a question, it’s a statement that I want to explain.

Utah’s legislature passed a new law with some sweeping impacts aimed at undocumented aliens. Under this law, police jurisdictions would have to confirm the citizenship of confined foreign nationals (read that Asian or Hispanic since we assume white people are citizens). The creation and issuance of ID cards to go only to citizens and legal aliens – this includes school ids. Negotiate with the Department of Homeland Security to allow the state to enforce federal immigration and customs laws. Deny employment to undocumented aliens and provide for sanctions for companies that hire. Companies competing for government contracts would have to validate their employees. It would also prohibit local authorities from interfering with government attempts to communicate with the federal government to determine someone’s citizenship status. Also is would make it an offense to to transport or harbor an undocumented alien for commercial or private gain.

The controversy today is that some jurisdictions are refusing to enforce the law because they feel that it requires them to racially profile populations and would decrease community cooperation with law enforcement. Probably two valid points.

But I want to talk about what is essentially wrong with this law. I will shy away from what, to me, appears the obvious racial motivation for the law. People in Utah know what I mean, whether they want to admit that or not. I am also not going to dwell on the unproven economic theories that illegal aliens have a negative impact on the economy. Especially since Utah has one of the consistently strongest economies and one of the fastest growth rates in the nation. Obviously any negative effects to the economy are not substantial, in fact the economy is probably strongly supported by the immigrant labor pool, especially in a housing market that supports the spiraling growth rate. I am aware, of course, that the housing market has suffered greatly from the current recession, but that is not linked to immigration issues. Finally, I am not going to dwell on the obvious unenforceable nature of the law.

What I will focus on are two points – one is the criminalization of a portion of the population and the other point is the efforts to ‘defend’ our sovereignty from the inescapable reality of immigration – both legal and illegal – from the South, rather than to find a way to embrace and benefit from that fact.

Many would argue that this population is already ‘criminal’ in that it illegally entered the US. But what I mean is that we have a population that, for the most part, is law abiding and seeks only to succeed in society. This in order to provide for their families here and possibly in their home countries. I doubt that many of them would choose to be here rather than in their own familiar homes, but are here out of necessity or desperation. Many have risked their lives to be here and have lost what little they own more than once. It is absurd to think that the threat of prosecution would somehow overpower their instincts to survival and success. But when we take what is probably a fairly large population and turn them away from schools, services and jobs,we begin to create an illiterate, unemployed and unsupported portion of the population. We drive this now criminalized population to seek its survival by other means. We create unwelcome children and adolescents with little to keep them off the streets and out of trouble. We have, in effect, created a far worse problem than any we have faced up to now. We will create a new class of people on the streets in Utah that are also divided from the mainstream by language, ethnicity and religion. Sorry folks, but that is a recipe for disaster in many ways.

The great writer Ryszard Kapuscinski once observed in China that besides the Great Wall, the Chinese had, for centuries, built walls in their country, their cities and even between private homes.

He wrote in ‘Travels with Herodotus’, “The worst aspect of the wall is to turn so many people into its defenders, and produce a mental attitude that sees a wall running through everything…an evil and inferior part, on the outside, and a good and superior part on the inside.”

Utahns to some degree have been accused of this already over the years. Perhaps it is easier for us to envision the world in those terms. Many of us can accept this sort of internal wall and we would rather spend our time, energy and money to defend that wall than to find a place for everyone in our society.

My family’s name is on the wall at Ellis Island. They came here a poor desperate people. Other parts of my family fled famine and poverty in Scotland. They may have come a more circuitous route to the US. America did not create their success nor give them opportunity, per se, they created America and the opportunities we all benefit from. America isn’t really an idea or notion – it is, after all, people who embrace those ideas and notions. American’s have always found a way to discriminate against those newly arrived be they Irish, Greek, Chinese, Hispanic. But those populations have forged on. It’s too bad that our legislature can’t spend more of its energy to figure out how to help those populations succeed – a success which benefits everyone. Quite a few proposals were laid out with those ideas. But what we turned to, after all the debate, was a wall, not a bridge.


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