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If You Build It They Won't Come

Commentary by Greg Lewis / NewMediaJournal.US
February 22, 2008

I'm talking about the wall between the U.S. and Mexico, of course. Conventional wisdom among those opposing "the wall" and supporting "amnesty" for illegal Mexican immigrants now in this country has been that the administrative nightmare that would ensue if we tried to deport some ten to 15 million illegals currently in this country would choke the system.

Harvard Law Professor William Stuntz, writing in the Weekly Standard, sums up this position: "No American government can afford to track down and expel, fine, or otherwise penalize 12 million of its residents: 17 times the number of convicted felons who enter prison each year (and today's imprisonment rate has shattered historical records). That much law enforcement is beyond government's capacity--a fact for which conservatives, of all people, should be thankful."

That potential problem alone is one of the primary reasons many legislators favored the federal immigration laws, the so-called "amnesty" laws, that failed to be enacted last year.

But events in Arizona following that state's governor Janet Napolitano's signing legislation requiring a crackdown on employers who hire illegals provide strong evidence that Federal legislators may have been misled. For the first time in memory, there seem to be as many illegals crossing the border back into Mexico as there are crossing from that country into the United States. And a Federal Appeals Court and Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpayo couldn't agree more.

Appearing on Fox News on Friday evening, February 8, Arpayo offered some interesting statistical data on the question of the crime rate among illegal immigrants. He explained that, although police officers arresting criminals generally don't question them about their citizenship, when those criminals enter Arpayo's detention facility, he and his staff do. Arpayo said that of 39,000 prisoners most recently detained in his facility, 10,000 - or more than 25% - of them were in this country illegally.

That's an astounding figure. Even in a state and a county within that state where illegal immigration from Mexico is endemic, the notion that more than a quarter of the criminals detained are illegal aliens beggars credibility. If the number is truly that high - and I have no reason to disbelieve Sheriff Arpayo, who truly seems to be doing no more than carrying out the duties of his job according to laws on the books - more than a quarter of all the crimes committed in his southern Arizona district are committed by illegals. Even where the percentage of Mexicans in this country illegally is probably much higher than the national average, as is no doubt the case in southern Arizona, this data suggests that by reducing or eliminating the population of illegal immigrants in this country, we would take a huge bite out of crime, to paraphrase McGruff.

Perhaps as relevant: Federal U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake has dismissed a lawsuit arguing that Arizona's recently enacted legislation, which was signed into law last December by Governor Janet Napolitano and which penalizes Arizona businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants, should be dismissed. The law had withstood a significant judicial challenge.

But even before the Federal District Court ruling by Judge Wake, the consequences of the passage of the anti-immigration legislation were being felt. The irony was that it was not the U.S. that was experiencing an administrative nightmare as a result of a crackdown on illegal Mexican immigrants in Arizona, but the country of Mexico itself, and particularly the Mexican state of Sonora, just across the Arizona border.

Recently a delegation of legislators from the Mexican state of Sonora, which shares a border with Arizona, met in Tucson about the consequences of Arizona's enforcement of the new law. The upshot of the meeting was that the Sonoran legislators were complaining that illegal Mexican immigrants were leaving Arizona in large numbers and coming back to their home country, Mexico, and particularly to the state of Sonora, and that Sonora was not equipped to handle the influx of its own citizens back onto Mexican soil. The demands for housing, education, and medical services placed on the Sonoran (and by extension the Mexican) government as a result of the influx of Mexican nationals whose needs for these services had previously been provided by the state of Arizona and the Federal Government of the United States was exceeding Sonora's capacity to provide said services.

The upshot of Arizona's actually enforcing its state laws regarding illegal immigration can be summed up in the words of Mexican Representative Lecitia Amparano Gamez, whose constituency is made up of citizens of the town of Nogales: "Mexico is not prepared for this."

She was referring to the problems that are beginning to be felt because such a large number of illegal Mexican immigrants who had been employed in Arizona because state and Federal immigrations officials had turned a blind eye toward their presence were now no longer able to send money earned in America back to their families. The result was a dramatic downturn in the fortunes of Sonoran citizens, not to say the Mexican government itself.

The Arizona Republic reported that the difference in the holiday traffic from Arizona to the Mexican state of Sonora this year rested with the fact that a large percentage of those crossing over from Arizona to Mexico were doing so permanently. And while it's difficult to determine how many of these travelers were abandoning their illegal Arizona lives to return permanently to Mexico, the fact that "the situation in Arizona has become very tough," as one recent evacuee declared, certainly argues in favor of a permanent exodus.

John McCain has already declared, in contravention to his co-sponsoring, with Teddy Kennedy, of the failed Senate Immigration Bill, that the expressed wish of the American people for their government to secure America's borders against the influx of illegal aliens will be the first priority of his administration. That's a solid start with regard to this critical issue. What remains to be seen is whether McCain will manage to put his policy where his promises are when push comes to shove after he is elected President.

To take things a step further: It's becoming increasingly clear that if those charged with upholding existing immigration law will simply do so, the outcome will not be, as so many have imprudently predicted, an administrative nightmare for an Immigration Agency charged with rounding up and processing millions, even tens of millions, of, especially, Mexican aliens in this country illegally, but rather a self-defining process by which those aliens recognize that their prospects for employment and for the building of an "American" life are substantially diminished and that their best course of action involves returning to Mexico and re-presenting themselves as prospects for legitimate immigrant status.

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