Migration Reform in Arizona
Dr. Manuel Carballo
The recent decision by Arizona state criminalizing illegal migrants has once again opened the debate on the management of migrants and migration in the United States. The Arizona state law requires police officers to check a person’s immigration status when the person has been involved in another offense, and if and when the officer has reasonable cause to suspect the person is in the country illegally. The law also permits Arizona residents to sue police departments if and when they feel the new law is not being enforced – a provision related to “sanctuary cities,” where local government officials refuse to enforce anti-illegal-immigration laws. It is clearly a law that is open to abuse and is designed to make the lives of migrants more difficult.
That Arizona should be the place for this discussion is not altogether inappropriate. Arizona state has one of the longest histories of migration in the USA. Indeed, migrants and migration have always been the backbone of the state’s development. The first migrants in Arizona arrived from Asia across the Bering Strait some 12,000 years ago and settled the area. It was not until the 17th century that more settlers began to arrive, primarily from Spain and other Hispanic countries. This was followed by an Anglo migration that began with the opening up of the West of the USA and the building of the railroads in the 1880s. Then, in 1945, at the end of World War II, migration to Arizona began to grow at a faster pace, and between 1990 and 1998 accelerated even more.
Migration is a complex process and is largely governed by supply and demand forces. In recent years, Arizona has experienced a large influx of migrants from Mexico, many of whom were driven by chronic poverty. This same reason led to the migration of people from Europe to the USA in the 19th and 20th centuries. The demand for “new blood” in the USA is much the same as the demand that is now emerging in North America and Europe in general. Falling birth rates are rapidly distorting the natural capacity of countries to meet their labor and social security requirements. As fewer nationals enter the labor market, the need for others to fulfill the jobs is growing. Similarly, as the number of nationals in a position to contribute to social security decreases, pension and health care systems need new tax payers to keep these systems vibrant. This is not simply a challenge for Arizona. It has become a major challenge for most of the post-industrial world and all projections suggest it will continue to be a major requirement for many years to come.
All of this to say that migration is here to stay and has become a lifeline for the countries and the communities that migrants move to, as well as it is to the countries and families they leave behind. When migrants arrive, they do the work that others are no longer available or willing to do, and they usually do it for cheaper rates. They have become the carers of children and the elderly, the cleaners of houses and restaurants, the ones who do occasional menial work and who help maintain agriculture. While they do this they also try to save what little they can to help support desperate families back home. In doing so, they have become a vital source of income for developing countries as well as an equally vital source of cheap labor for developed countries.
Migration, however, is never simple. Psychologically and emotionally it is not easy to uproot and leave spouses, children and parents behind, especially not knowing if and when they will be able to see each other again. Living and working alone in distant foreign countries is not straightforward either. Even under the best of circumstances it is often nerve-racking and a major source of chronic homesickness and stress.
The stress of migration is now being made all the worse by the Arizona law and other similar laws and attitudes that are emerging or being talked about in many countries. Schizophrenic situations are being created at a time in history when migrants are needed more than ever and when communities have become more dependent on them than before, and when some people are saying that they do not want them, and are enacting or calling for laws that are intended to make the lives and wellbeing of these essential workers all the more difficult and fragile.
All of this is not to say that migration should not be managed. Indeed, it should be, and much more work is called for if we are to organize and structure modern migration in a way that is good for everyone. But there should also be no doubt in anyone’s mind that migrants today are a vital part of the global economy, and an essential part of the day-to-day life of communities throughout North America and Europe. Actions that intentionally or unintentionally eat away at the mental health and wellbeing of the people caught up in answering to the economic supply and demand forces of today’s world are retrogressive, unethical and unrealistic. They are counter-productive at best, and at worst are a major set back to social development.
A few links to data on migration statistics and the new immigration legislation in Arizona: