Arizona's Short-Sighted Immigration Bill


Arizona's recent passage of what is widely perceived as a harsh anti-immigrant bill reflects a growing tendency--in both political parties--to focus on the here and now, as opposed to the future. The effort to largely target Latino illegal aliens during a sharp recession may well gain votes among an angry, alienated majority population, but it could have unforeseen negative consequences over time.

In terms of the Arizona law, this is not simply a case of one wacko state. The most recent Gallup survey shows that more Americans favor the law than oppose it, with independents and Republicans showing strong support. Despite the negative coverage in the media, the Arizona gambit could somewhat pay off in November. A weak economy tends to exacerbate nativist sentiments, something that has been constant throughout much of American history.

But there is a distinct danger for the GOP here, not only in Arizona but in the rest of the country as well. As Bill Frey of the Brookings Institute points out, there is a growing gap between the electorate, which is still largely white and older, and the much younger, far more rapidly growing Latino population. In Arizona Frey says the "cultural generation gap" between the ethnicity of seniors and children is some 40%, meaning that while 83% of senior are white, only 43% of children are. Nationwide, Frey estimates the gap in the ethnic composition of seniors and youths stands at a still sizable 25 points.

Arizona's large disequilibrium in the ethnicity of its generations is a product, in part, of the state's historic pull to white retirees. Yet its formerly booming economy, based largely around construction and tourism, required a massive importation of largely Latino, low-wage labor, much of it illegal. As a result over the past two decades, Arizona's Latino population has grown by 180%, turning what had been a 72% Anglo state to one that is merely 58% white.

You don't have to go very far--in fact just across the California border--to see what awaits Arizona's nativist Republicans. The Grand Canyon state's future has already emerged there. In the 1970s and 1980s California's generally robust economy made it a primary destination for immigrants from both Asia and Latin America. Comfortable in their Anglo-ness, papers like the Arizona Republic were dismissing California as a "third world state," particularly in the wake of the 1992 LA riots.

Like their Arizona counterparts today, many white Californians then were sickened by pictures of mass Latino participation in looting during the riots. Many were also concerned with soaring costs of providing social services to a largely poor immigrant population. Sensing an opportunity, in 1994 Gov. Pete Wilson--locked in tough re-election battle amid a deep recession--endorsed Proposition 187, a measure designed to prevent illegal aliens from accessing public services. The measure passed easily, with support from both whites and African-Americans. The strong backing among Independents and even some Democrats helped Wilson win re-election with surprising ease.

But the long-term consequences of 187 reveal the longer-term consequences for the GOP. During the Reagan era and even the first Wilson term, Latino voters split their votes fairly evenly between the parties. But after 1994 there was a distinct turn toward the Democrats, with the GOP share at the gubernatorial level falling from nearly half in 1990 to less than a third in subsequent election. In some cases, right-wing Republicans garnered even smaller portions of Latino voters.

This is a classic case of the past waging war on the future. Since 1990 Latino and immigrant population has continued to grow. Overall, the percentage of foreign-born residents, according to USC demographer Dowell Myers, has grown from roughly 22% to 27%. One-third of Californians in 2000 were Latino; Myers projects Latinos will constitute almost 47% of the state's population in 2030.

The political consequences will only get worse for Republicans. Latino population voting power already has doubled from roughly 10% of the total in 1990 to 20% in 2006.

This Latino population will become increasingly active and engaged. It is, for one thing, ever more English-fluent, and increasingly dominated by the second and third generations. This group could become permanently estranged, like African-Americans, from the GOP. If that happens, notes longtime Sacramento columnist Dan Weintraub, Republicans could "all but become a permanent minority party in California."

And the rest of the country will feel these trends; between 2000 and 2050, the vast majority of America 's net population growth will come from racial minorities, particularly Asians and Hispanics. Already one out of every five American children--tomorrow's voters--is Hispanic.

Of course, as Latinos integrate and intermarry, they may become less particular in their world view and share more in common with other middle-class Americans. Yet memories of slights against a particular group can overcome even economic self-interest. Blood often proves thicker than bank accounts. The tendency of Jews, a largely affluent and entrepreneurial tribe, to back often harshly anti-business Democrats has its roots in old world scars left from the pogroms in czarist Russia as well as the right-wing genocide in Nazi Germany. Some older voters recall the rabid anti-Semites once prominent in the American far-right as well as the more genteel exclusionism practiced by more refined upper-class Republicans.

In the future, today's images of shrill, anti-immigrant right-wing activists could resound for coming generations of Latinos as well as Asians and other newcomer groups. It could essentially deprive the Republican Party of voters who might otherwise consider the GOP option, handing the Democrats a permanently expanded base, not only in southwest but in much of the country.

None of this is necessary or good for the country. Political competition for ethnic groups is a healthy thing for national interests and for the individual groups. Lock-step support by African-Americans may make them powerful within the Democratic Party, but it also means they can also be taken for granted when push comes to shove. And, of course, when they are in power, Republicans have little real political stake in confronting the serious issues facing black America.

All this is particularly disturbing since competition for Latino voters should be intense. Heavily employed in construction and manufacturing industries, they have been badly hurt in the recession and their interests were not particularly addressed in the Obama stimulus plan. Many are also socially conservative, supporting, for example, California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage.

In coming months other proposed steps by the administration and its congressional allies, such as the proposed cap-and-trade legislation, could prove very tough on industries that tend to employ Latinos. Climate change-inspired moves against single-family homes--already in place in California--conflict directly with the aspirations of many Latinos as well as other immigrants who, unlike the usually affluent, homeowning white population, are still seeking the chance to buy their own home.

But instead of fighting for their economic interests, the Arizona law has handed the Democrats a golden opportunity for to engage their own demagogy on race issues. Instead of having to defend their plans to restart the economy and reorient them to middle and working class needs, Democrats now can play to narrow racial concerns among Latinos while further bolstering the self-righteousness of their affluent, white, left-wing base.

The reversion to racial politics prompted by the Arizona law ultimately does no good for anyone except "base-oriented" partisan campaign consultants, nativists and ethnic warlords. With all the long-term economic and social challenges that face this growing country, Phoenix's folly marks an unfortunate step backward to our more shameful past and away from a potentially promising future.

This article originally appeared in

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and is a distinguished presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University. He is author of The City: A Global History. His newest book is The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, released in Febuary, 2010.

Photo by Caleb Alvarado

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You seem to glide over...

the part about being a legal immigrant versus an illegal immigrant. Makes all the difference in the world.

The issue with this bill is

The issue with this bill is not and has never been whether someone is illegal or not. If that were the case then nobody would have made such a stink over it. The whole issue at hand is that tiny little part where if a police officer suspects you 'might' be illegal, then they can request for you to show papers. This is nothing short of basic unbridled racial profiling and as is, a complete slap in the face in regards to our civil rights. Plain and simple.

Emotions VS Facts

Playing the RACE card & inserting politics into the mix is becoming annoying to most Americans and is not helping produce any resolution. Immigration discussions typically revolve around (slim) potential for abuse of the law. We rarely see any mention of the original purpose of immigration & immigration laws--do most people even remember? You hear little about the events triggering the Arizona law (crime & costs--much greater than any abuse potential years down the road)--nor do you hear much about how the entire culture of the country is being changed by unbridled immigration.

Before LBJ & Ted Kennedy threw an ethnic wrench into the mix in 1965, immigration was a positive benefit. Prior to that time,immigrants were required to have a skill-a sponsor-a way to maintain themselves economically, be disease-free, no criminal record--basic things that made them likely to succeed here without being a burden to society. And (most importantly) the US accepted approximately the same % of immigrants from various countries which allowed for the percentage of each nationality to reflect what was already in the current population at that time.

It wasn't until that changed that we began having problems on numerous levels. This stuff isn't rocket science--children could figure it out. The truth of the matter is that the problem would not exist if that 1965 legislation had not made the changes it made. The other dirty fact is that the laws which do exist are not even being followed. And why not? Because there is another agenda going on, with motivations which no one ever addresses. Until a majority are brave enough to face the elephant in the room and exclaim that the Emperor has no clothes, the problems surrounding our immigration system (or lack thereof) will never be resolved.

You mention that how our

You mention that how our country is being "changed" by immigration. Well last time I checked, me, you, and basically everyone else in the country except for Native Americans are ALL immigrants. The "We got here first" mentality isn't a valid argument. We came in and paved over the country, took over other people's lands, built up huge cities, polluted our air, water, and land, and basically "Changed" the country. What's new?

The topic at hand wasn't

The topic at hand wasn't about population control but rather the issue with Arizona's immigration bill. But to bake it down to the issue's most basic essence, Americans have a long history of having a nasty attitude towards newcomers. In the past it was against the Irish who swarmed into NYC. It was also the Cornish who took jobs in the mines. Other groups include The Polish and Italians who took back-breaking jobs in the knitting mills and foundries along the east coast. Later it was the large influx of African Americans into cities like Detroit to escape the Jim Crow South to work at Ford and GM.

But the bottom line is that this is nothing new. America has always had a history of misguided negativity thrown at whomever most recent immigrant group happens to be. Stupid since after all- we are ALL immigrants here. That is unless you happen to be Native American.

Arizona's Immigration Bill

Joel Kotkin is not only a sage predictor of what a future USA is likely to look like, but he also seems to be a proponent. In that respect he overlooks what is happening in countries with uncontrolled population growth.

At some stage of crowding people react quite like rats who are crowded into a cage with insufficient resources. They kill each other over a few scraps of food. It happen in areas of Rwanda where there were no Tutsi and with even more ease in areas where they were killing another clan. People trying to feed their entire family on less than two acres killed their neighbors for land out of desperation.

All rule of law has collapsed in Somalia due to competition for meager resources.

Poorer Americans are competing economically with citizens of two countries with abject poverty and populations exceeding a billion people each. Poor immigrants just make their plight worse.

Mr. Kotkin misses two points in his analysis of the future prospects for any party that opposes illegal immigration. First the USA will have a ringside seat to witness massive civil unrest and starvation in over populated countries over the next forty years as humans try to increase the world population to nine billion people. People will see what "too many" means. No pontifical opinions will offset the scenes on their televisions.

The second issue is his opinion that the immigrants will punish those who oppose illegal immigration. In Britain's current election pollsters are finding that the children of immigrants are themselves opposing continued uncontrolled immigration. They realize they are competing with those newcomers and in a way to which the rich are not subjected.

The issue is long term sustainability. With education, thought and self control people can make the earth a paradise and life a joy. They can do this even in areas with few resources by reducing the population to the level at which even meager resources are more than adequate. It is the mind over instinct.

The immigrants are often very nice people who are from countries where their parents irresponsibly produced too many children. Taking them all in does not solve the problem. There are too many and the sources continue producing. The solution is maintaining islands of sanity where people balance population against resources. Even in those countries, as natural resources decline through depletion of fossil fuels, people are likely to be forced to gradually reduce population or sustain a reduced standard of living.

Either we control population thoughtfully or mother nature will do it for us. Mother nature's way is not what I wish for my children and grandchildren.

Jim Fuqua

The argument isn't and never

The argument isn't and never has been that we should be promoting illegal immigration. The whole reason that there has been an uproar over this particular law is because it more or less singles out a particular group. Putting it bluntly, if you look "ethnic" then there's a much greater reason for a cop to suspect you are an illegal alien. Its as simple as that. This is racial profiling in its most simplistic form.

I really don't have any concerns about the law because frankly it'll never make it past the federal court. The law is probably going to be thrown out. But I also think we do need new legislation to control illegal immigration because it is indeed a major problem. This law is not the way to do it.

There are some long-term negative implications for not only any state that considers such poorly conceived legislation, but also the Republican party who seems to be content to keep right on pandering to a shrinking, aging, white, mainly conservative base. The Republican party is clearly making no efforts to include other ethnic groups in their constituency. Long-term I see this causing the party to either reverse their attitudes towards immigration and immigrants or basically lose their relevance. Across the country the rate of growth has come more from ethnic groups who by and large tend to vote Democratic. If I were to guess I'd say the Republican Party is likely going to start pandering to these groups which means a departure from their tactics of late. I consider this to be a good thing. If both parties become more equally representative of ethnic groups then they will more evenly represent Americans. I'd greatly welcome that change.

As for Arizona, I'm not sure what those who passed this law were thinking because if the law somehow miraculously goes through it will negatively cost Arizona's economy greatly. A huge number of immigrants- both legal and illegal- will probably pack their bags and go. This country has been built economically off the backs of immigrants throughout history. To suddenly change the atmosphere of your state to one that is unwelcoming to your immigrant workforce will lead to a negative economic impact. The politicians who passed this law did so for short term political gains. The long term effects are going to have a lasting impact.

Arizona Law

Interesting that no comment made that the Arizona Law pretty much mirrors the Federal law. Isnt the real discussion about why our Federal Govt will not enforce the current laws on the books. A lot of this is mis information on the part of the media. They are not telling the truth about this law. Nothing in here is unlawful but mirrors Federal law which our govt is choosing not to enforce. Not a republican issue but a Republic issue!

Per separation of federal

Per separation of federal and state powers in the Constitution, states can't enforce federal laws. States like Arizona currently do have tools at their disposals to coordinate with federal authorities on federal crimes such as illegal immigration:

The law extends situations that local/state police can use probable cause to apprehend, question, and even imprison people for possible violation of a federal crime. This endangers all Arizonians, residents of other states, or anyone traveling through the state to unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Constitution.