Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s newest crusade against the entrenched special interests in Sacramento involves the always-sensitive subject of illegal immigration.
While his drive to push for a more responsible border policy has elicited the predictable outrage from the usual suspects, his attention to the immigration issue shows that Schwarzenegger has a better appreciation for the gravity of this subject than his detractors do.
In the past three weeks, Schwarzenegger has tackled the immigration issue head on. On April 19, Schwarzenegger spoke to a gathering of newspaper publishers about the need for increased security along the U.S.-Mexican border. He accused the federal government of “trying to run the other way” instead of dealing with border security, and called on them to “enforce the law” when it comes to immigration.
On April 28, Schwarzenegger called in to “The John and Ken Show” on A.M. talk radio and spoke out against a billboard ad that depicted the words “Los Angeles, CA,” but with the “CA” crossed out and replaced with the word “Mexico.” He called the billboard “extremely divisive,” saying it “promotes illegal aliens to come here,” and asked the owners of the billboard to remove it.
And on Sunday, Schwarzenegger told Fox News’ audience that ordinary citizens are tired of government inaction on immigration. He warned that “if the federal government falls short of doing (its) job and fulfilling (its) responsibility and the promise to the people, then the average citizen will rise up and will do their job.”
These three comments highlight the big themes involved in the illegal immigration debate. The first is the irresponsibility of the federal government in abdicating its duty to enforce immigration law. Due to the political sensitivity of the subject, few lawmakers are willing to address it, much less propose serious solutions. Many elected officials have bought the hype that Latinos are the new swing vote, and are thus unwilling to jeopardize their positions by angering that voting bloc.
This timidity was on display last year when Border Patrol agents were rounding up illegal immigrants in Temecula, Escondido and Corona, and were told to cease and desist by Asa Hutchinson, Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security in the Department of Homeland Security. Normal functions of government, in this case the apprehension of those breaking the law, took a backseat to political concerns. The current proposals by President George W. Bush for amnesty or a guest worker program only show that our leaders have no intention of enforcing current law, and are only looking for quick fixes.
The second comment from Schwarzenegger highlights the nervousness many “natives” feel about the huge tide of illegal immigrants pouring into the state. While there are those who see such concepts as national identity and sovereignty as quaint 19th century anachronisms, they are nonetheless of legitimate concern when dealing with hordes of unassimilated immigrants, many whom fly the flag of their native country in place of Old Glory.
It is not unreasonable for citizens to be uneasy about the loyalties immigrants to this country hold, or to expect immigrants to adopt some of the customs and habits of the United States. Pledging allegiance to the United States is one of the conditions we have for allowing immigrants to become citizens of this country.
Many immigrant activists dismiss such attitudes as stemming from racism or xenophobia. But when Mexican President Vicente Fox campaigns on U.S. soil for reelection, and when chapters of organizations like Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan call for the expulsion of “gringos” from the land of Aztlan, better known as the American Southwest, it is clear that some Americans have concerns that need to be addressed about divided loyalties.
Finally, Schwarzenegger’s third comment highlights the consequences of the government’s failure to address illegal immigration. Government inaction on immigration has already spurred one grassroots organization, the Minuteman Project, to take matters into its own hands. Further recalcitrance on the part of elected officials in dealing with this issue may spark public animosity toward immigrants in general.
If that happens, neither the United States nor immigrants will benefit.
Sean Paroski, whose column appears every Thursday, is a senior applied mathematics major.