Magazine article USA TODAY

Arizona Decides Enough Is Enough

Magazine article USA TODAY

Arizona Decides Enough Is Enough

Article excerpt

THE RECENTLY PASSED Arizona law making it illegal to be in the state without proper documentation papers has raised some significant questions concerning states' rights and Federal law. The troth is, the Federal government has failed to control our nation's borders. Once upon a time, when our biggest national security issue was the arrival of Irish bartenders who decided to overstay their tourist visas, that was one thing. New York, Boston, and Los Angeles were only mildly harmed by the arrival of these nontaxpayers. Today, however, the U.S. is faced with various terrorist operatives who have mass murder on their minds. This makes protection of our borders an existential issue. It no longer is a parking ticket; it has become a felony.

Part of the problem is the revolution in travel. The pilgrims were stuck on a sailboat for more than two months. Even those who came over on steamships were a week or so in arriving. Now, though, people land at major airports all across the country and we do not know who they are and have almost no time to find out.

Perhaps even more troublesome is the large number of foreigners who cross our southern border illegally. Unlike the doctors and nurses who go through the State Department's lines to secure their visas, and who make a great contribution to our health care system, those who come across the Rio Grande illegally or simply overstay their tourist or student visas represent a complex problem for our country. For instance, their presence here provides an increase in the supply of unskilled and semi-skilled labor, thus driving down the wages of our most vulnerable workers. Moreover, they themselves are exploited by employers who use their illegal status against them to deny these individuals an honest day's pay for an honest day's work. If you are here illegally, you cannot always get health care, or join a union, or negotiate for better conditions--and the people who are here legitimately are undercut by your presence.

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Of course, we have been down this road before. Back in the mid 1980s, there was a long, drawn-out debate concerning immigration--legal and illegal--resulting in the Immigration Reform and Control Act, also known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act after its main proponents. Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli (D.-Ky.) was Chairman of the House of Representatives' Immigration, International Law and Refugees Subcommittee. Sen. Alan Simpson (R.-Wyo.) chaired the Immigration and Refugee Subcommittee. Back then, bipartisanship was not just a slogan--there actually was some. In addition, the president of the University of Notre Dame, Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, led the bipartisan Commission on Immigration Reform. With the commission's support, Mazzoli and Simpson shepherded the bill through Congress, and Pres. Ronald Reagan signed it into law in November 1986.

According to Mazzoli, "We quickly realized that if immigration reform was to work and be fair it had to be a three-legged stool. If one leg failed, so would the entire bill. Leg one was improved security against illegal crossings at the border with Mexico.... For the first time in U. S. history, we imposed penalties on employers who knowingly hired undocumented workers. Leg two was the H2A temporary worker program for agricultural workers. Leg three was what we called 'legalization.' Looking at the stool, it's obvious that all three legs failed."

The first key provision was employer sanctions. That is, it became a criminal offense to employ an illegal alien knowingly. The authorities were empowered to levy fines and other penalties on any employer who broke the law. To this day, any new employee has to fill out what is known as Form I-9, and that requires presenting appropriate identification and a Social Security card.

An enormous loophole in the law, though, is known as the "affirmative defense," whereby the employer is under no obligation to see if the documents presented are authentic or even belong to the employee. …

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