Saturday, April 24, 2010


If I'm understanding the new Arizona law, police can stop & demand identification from anyone "when practicable" just because they don't look light-skinned enough. I wonder how local cops feel about that? Probably not as good as one might imagine. If they're being pressured to find & detain illegal immigrants, it adds a whole other level of responsibility they may not want to have.

This draconian & possibly unconstitutional law is what happens in the absence of direction from the Federal government. Arizona doesn't have the resources to secure the Mexican border or the power to set conditions of amnesty.

Elizabeth NJ has thousands of illegal immigrants. Most of them, I suspect, reside on the other side of town. They're in this neighborhood, too. I can sort of guess who some of them are. They're poor - rummage shop combinations of clothes - hardly know a word of English, act clueless in certain social situations. I'd be wrong sometimes. But my neighborhood is also filled with working & middle class Hispanics, families that have been here for years, even generations. They sit on City Council & the Board of Ed. It would be scandalous in Elizabeth if police had to act as Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents & inadvertently singled out lawyers, doctors, teachers, business owners & local politicians. The cops have enough problems to deal with, & a number of them have bad street reps already. But Elizabeth isn't Arizona. An illegal immigrant from south of the border has shown some resourcefulness if he or she has managed to get this far. If the friendly Hispanic guy who works for the Chinese guy at the market around the corner is undocumented, my inclination is to let him hang around & have an opportunity for legal status. The two cold homeless men who started a fire in an abandoned house in the middle of the night that resulted in a fireman being run over by a fire engine ended up in prison instead of the deportation center. Neither of them had a serious criminal record. They were invisible until a freezing night made them do something tragically stupid. America will pay for their residency for years to come.

The Arizona law, the 'Support Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act," which doesn't mean what it says, will have the opposite effect. Local police do not want to be used as enforcers of immigration laws because they need the cooperation of everyone in solving local crime. This was a point of contention in Morristown NJ between the mayor & police chief.

In Elizabeth, the largest Evangelical church has a Hispanic pastor, is conservative, & is politically influential. They're people who would gravitate to the Republican Party. Jeb Bush received a majority of Florida's Hispanic vote in his 2002 reelection. Chris Christie of NJ received 32% last year by not emphasizing immigration issues & may have received more had he not leaned on some hardcore conservatives to campaign for him late in the race. The illegal immigrant population has declined during the recession, which made it a good time for national reform. Except that unemployment & job insecurity have made many people surly - not that there's been a rush to fill the kinds of jobs illegal immigrants hold. & there's anger at social services eligibility. I'm kind of curious about how large a role illegal immigrants play in the economy, where they might be indispensible. I know that day labor opportunities have dried up - most of the storefront temp work offices in Elizabeth have gone out of business.

Arizona is a strange place. It has a metropolitan city like Phoenix with its sprawling, familiar suburbs; & vast expanses of ranchland, desert & wilderness. I was there for a few days & basically was astonished most of the time, by the distances, blast furnace heat, & landscapes. It was about as different from Jersey as one could get.

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