How Arizona Conservatives Opt for Big Government

At first glance, passage by the Arizona legislature of the country’s most stringent crackdown on immigration would appear to be a clear victory for Republican and conservative ideals. At second glance, it’s exactly the opposite. It’s not only a frontal attack on bedrock principles of free market capitalism, it’s also a desperate move to expand the power, reach, and spending of Big Government.

The stereotype of the rugged, self-reliant frontiersmen and women who tamed the inhospitable Wild West, thanks in large part to their own ingenuity and the hard work of migrant laborers, is being replaced. The old-fashioned, tough guys have saddled up and ridden their horses off into the sunset, only to be replaced by a new breed of fearful Arizonans who, afraid of change, and anxious about the future, feel the need for protection by hard-nosed lawmen and aggressive posses. A can-do attitude and a spirit of individualism have been supplanted by helplessness and a need for authority.

On other political and social matters–health care, policing of private industry, environmental issues, regulation of financial institutions, to name a few–conservatives generally adhere to the maxim that “the government that governs least governs best.” Conservatives who regard the mighty power of the state to be intrusive and overreaching in other realms, are now desperate to have Big Government insert itself into the immigration issue, which, at its heart is a social and economic matter–driven in large part by the desire of people to better themselves.

Despite protestations, supposedly core political articles of faith have been abandoned in favor of visceral reactions that pit “us” against “them.” How else to explain the rage and the often hateful outpourings of emotion? Supporters of get tough-immigration enforcement generally deny that their views may be inspired by racism or hatred. The immigration issue, they say, is all about the rule of law. There’s a border. Step over it without permission and you pay the legal penalty–arrest, prosecution, deportation. Work without authorization and face the consequences. “What about ‘illegal’ don’t you understand?” I am often asked.

If only it were that simple: an immutable and sacred law which, in its wisdom speaks to eternal values of justice, fairness, and economic prosperity. In fact, legislation is situational, subject to reinterpretation and change. “The law in its majestic equality,” wrote Anatole France, “forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” Laws may try to address political and economic ills, but don’t always resolve them. In particular, immigration laws have changed over the centuries in response to prevailing political sentiment and economic conditions.

With his autograph on 1986 legislation, the iconic conservative Republican President Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to some three million migrants, changing their legal status with the stroke of a pen. (Yes. Conservative Ronald Reagan). The act followed a long tradition of historical ambivalence about immigration issues. The United States once welcomed Chinese laborers, only to later pass laws excluding them. Mexicans have been alternately embraced and rejected, depending on whim, labor needs, and the influence of the employer lobby. Europeans likewise, depending on their ethnic backgrounds were sometimes needed by the United States, and other times shunned. Across the Atlantic, European nations followed the same pattern. They once recruited Muslim workers, and are now trying to restrict them.

Even though we may true to reduce the immigration issue to a strictly legal matter, that just isn’t the case. Yesterday, I interviewed a high-ranking U.S. immigration official whose job it is to deport illegal immigrants. He sounded like an immigrants’ rights activist, telling me that he and the people he works with know that the main reason people come to the U.S. illegally (and legally) is to improve their lives. He’s right. Some people walk across the street to find work; others cross city boundaries or state lines. Others cross national borders. Immigration can’t be reduced to a legal matter, and the issues that surround it are not simply resolved by pulling out the six guns, saddling up the Broncos, and rounding up the “bad guys.”

Arizona’s Barry Goldwater, the quintessential conservative, knew that. His family had employed illegal immigrants on a citrus farm. Goldwater opposed employer sanctions, knowing they are “inevitably discriminatory.” He was also against amnesty and favored a temporary worker program. But significantly, Goldwater realized that at the root, the U.S. needed “increased cooperation with the countries that are sending illegal aliens.” He believed that U.S. businesses should work with those abroad to “[h]elp providing economic incentives to encourage residents to remain in their native lands.”

In wanting to get at the causes for immigration, Goldwater had it right. At the very least, today’s conservatives would do well to learn that lesson from the old Arizona firebrand. And there are others: Big Government won’t resolve the issue. Immigration is governed more by the laws of supply and demand than government statutes.

Even conservative die-hards have told me time and again, that if the shoe were on the other foot, they would also cross borders and do what was necessary for the welfare of their families. Family values. And, while we’re on the subject, for religious conservatives who respect Judeo-Christian principles above all, here’s another maxim to keep in mind: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”



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2 responses to “How Arizona Conservatives Opt for Big Government

  1. Marilynne Martin

    You miss many points in your analysis.
    First, conservatives understand they (immigrants) come here for “opportunity” not jobs. It is the liberals that propose they come for jobs. If they came for jobs we would have had a traffic jam the last two years of this economic collapse as they would have left in droves.

    Conservatives feel that there are many “fools” filling out our forms and being rejected. They too want “opportunity”, are they “chopped liver”?

    Conservatives are not for big government – they are for limited government. They believe national security is one of the few areas that the federal government was given powers under the constitution to provide and immigration falls under that category. But instead of doing its constitutional duty it has been very busy taking over the banks, auto industry,. health care industry, student loans, etc.

    The difference between the 60’s, 80’s and today is the nanny state we are now in. The opportunity of the past was to work hard and earn a better living. The opportunity of today is embedded in a pro-immigration sign circulating the internet the past two days which reads ” Give Us Free Health care, Jobs, No Taxes, House, Food, You Owe Us America – We will Shoot More Police in Arizona Until We Get Free”.

    I have been researching the last immigration reform bill. (That’s how I stumbled upon your blog). Looking at all the promises made in 1986. In 1989 there are many articles pointing to the fraud in applications. I read the promises of legislators of how this reform was going to fix the issue. I read the articles on how it didn’t work because they didn’t fund the depts who were suppose to enforce the legislation.

    Check out E-Verify. They set up a system for an employer to check status. But here’s the glitch. You can only verify “new” workers, not your current workers. What a joke. They have no interest in enforcing the laws.

    I say let’s have total open borders – send out a memo – everyone who wants to come can come. Than when we are a nation of 600 million by Dec 2010 and people are camped out in “your backyard” lets see how sympathetic you are.

    Why don’t you do a piece on Binder and Binder “our social security disability advocates”. It is amazing how there are benefits that the government is hiding from the people. It is amazing to me that someone is “disabled” and they don’t even know it. Or have we redefined “disabled” to break the system?

    This country is going down the tubes. But good news, soon I will be able to drop my overpriced private health insurance policy ($22K/yr) and pay a $95/yr fine. I’ll buy the insurance when I get sick and need it.

    This country is run by MORONS.

  2. Tough Arizona has been “replaced by a new breed of fearful Arizonans who, afraid of change, and anxious about the future, feel the need for protection by hard-nosed lawmen and aggressive posses. A can-do attitude and a spirit of individualism have been supplanted by helplessness and a need for authority.”

    Arizona is not the frontier of 1880. It is now mostly modern cities and suburban towns and established “civilization” It should not be a shock to you that people in the state do not want to be the kidnapping capital of America and second in the world to Bogata,Columbia.
    They do not live in a police state. They voted to give the police more power. If it is abused, then they will take the power away, as they did in California.
    Did the “hard work of migrant laborers” really “tame” the wild west?

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