(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
I’m not a constitutional law scholar, and I don’t play one on TV, but I will tell you what I think anyway. My reading of the news coverage on the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of Arizona’s SB 1070 decision leads me to believe that rather than a “mixed decision” that the court essentially overturned the majority of the law, and opened the door for further legal challenge for what little remains of it. Three of the four major provisions have been struck down, leaving the rest fairly meaningless. Some here in Arizona are trying to put a brave face on this, but it clearly a crushing defeat.
I moved to Arizona from Texas in 2003. When I arrived, the vehemence of the immigration debate was startling. Arizona’s economy was booming, the state government was on the verge of running sizeable surpluses, and property values were on the rise and the term “property bubble” had yet to enter into the political discussion. Despite all of this, some Arizonans had clearly convinced themselves that the end of Western Civilization was at hand. I listened for instance to a radio interview with my jaw agape as the guest explained in muddled fashion how the current difficulties over illegal immigration made the United States “exactly like the late Roman Empire” and was even more stunned as the radio host ate it up.
Luckily I have yet to see any Visigoths, nor have I been fed to any lions at the University of Phoenix Stadium…at least not yet.
Asking around a bit, I learned that a San Diego border fence built earlier in the decade had redirected traffic through Arizona. The abundance of housing and construction jobs obviously had something to do with it as well. Somewhere about this time I recall reading a blog post from Virginia Postrel. Postrel addressed the question “why is illegal immigration such a hot topic in California and Arizona, but not in Florida and Texas?” Postrel’s response was something close to “Simple-Arizona and California finance their state governments on income taxes while Florida and Texas do not.”
This struck me as a highly plausible partial explanation. Taxpayers do incur costs with regards to illegal immigration, and public schooling is probably the largest of them. In Texas, no one can escape taxation, as the vast majority of Texas taxes come in the form of sales and property tax. Everyone buys stuff, and everyone pays property taxes either directly or indirectly. California relies heavily on an income tax that undocumented workers paid in cash can avoid paying. California seems to have entered into a spiral of increasing income tax rates and losing income tax payers. This isn’t going well for them and only looks to get worse. Memo to California- Nevada has no income tax, nor do six other states, including the one happy to feast on your misfortune:
Those most outraged by illegal immigration have an unfortunate and consistent habit of substituting the balance sheet of state government with that of society as a whole. The nation enjoys benefits to immigration as well as costs. I would certainly prefer legal to illegal immigration, and I am not an open-borders type. If however illegal immigration were a fraction as damaging to the economy as some imagine, it would be quite impossible for Texas to be beating other states up and stealing their economic development lunch money. The last time I checked about 36% of Texas K-12 students were Anglo, and the state’s economy is on like Donkey Kong.
In my opinion, the federal government (or else states- see below) needs to do to illegal immigration what iTunes did to Napster- bring a black market under the law with a combination of a liberal guest worker policy and increased enforcement. Something like a guest worker program and strong employer sanctions for those going outside of it seems like a good start. A single state attempting a heavy-duty enforcement approach seems doomed to have an effect similar to the San Diego fence at best. At worst, it will damage the image of your state on the way to defeat in the courts.
My suggestion for Arizona lawmakers would therefore be two-fold. First, change Arizona’s tax structure to reflect the fact that the state plays host to two large groups of people unlikely to play income taxes (undocumented workers and Snowbird retirees). Illegal immigrants and Snowbirds both consume public services and ought to pay their share for them. This could help turn the heat down on the issue here in Arizona, which is badly needed.
Second, given the completely understandable frustration with the inability of our Capitol Hill Olympians to do anything with the issue, border states should explore the possibility of engaging in an inter-state compact regarding immigration policy. Once ratified by Congress, an inter-state compact has the force of federal law in the participating states.
An enforcement-only policy seems doomed to simply pass off immigration problems to other states, would not likely find willing partners in other states, and would be unlikely to be ratified by Congress. If however border states could agree to a mixed iTunes approach with a good prospect of working, I find a hard time seeing the navel-gazing set in Washington turning down something the border states badly need- sane and humane immigration policy.
This issue has become far too bitter and divisive. We need some leaders to step up and fix a badly broken status-quo.