“The Arizona Way or the American Way?” by Mark Budman

Since I am a legal immigrant myself, I might understandably react to Arizona’s new law on immigration even more strongly than a native might. Though I am not a Latino, this issue of potential tough enforcement affects every immigrant group in America. After all, while the Latinos are the biggest slice of the immigrant community, other foreign nationals have settled in this country as well.

Quoting Arizona SENATE BILL 1070:

FOR ANY LAWFUL CONTACT MADE BY A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL OR AGENCY OF THIS STATE OR A COUNTY, CITY, TOWN OR OTHER POLITICAL SUBDIVISION OF THIS STATE WHERE REASONABLE SUSPICION EXISTS THAT THE PERSON IS AN ALIEN WHO IS UNLAWFULLY PRESENT IN THE UNITED STATES, A REASONABLE ATTEMPT SHALL BE MADE, WHEN PRACTICABLE, TO DETERMINE THE IMMIGRATION STATUS OF THE PERSON. THE PERSON’S IMMIGRATION STATUS SHALL BE VERIFIED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.

As you can clearly see, this bill is not directed just against Latinos. And the last provision is the clincher. If they catch you on Friday night, you might spend the entire weekend in the slammer until the appropriate federal office is opened.

I wouldn’t like it if a cop stopped me in the mall and even took me to the police station after overhearing me speaking in my native language to my wife. However, I have to balance my desire for privacy with the need for security of my adopted country. I wouldn’t mind carrying my passport in my pocket to show it to law enforcement at a moment’s notice, although it’s both inconvenient and demeaning—if that would, for example, help to catch a member of a Russian or any Eastern European mafia. That would be, of course, if the Arizona law’s clincher were removed.

But I am not advocating a witch-hunt against immigrants, even if they are illegal. We can’t forget that America is both a humane and pragmatic country. We can’t corner people even if they have done something wrong, and yet we can’t condone criminal behavior. There should be a path to legality for all illegal immigrants, but it has to be a pragmatic and just one.

Some cost studies claim that illegal immigration costs U.S. taxpayers about $113 billion a year at the federal, state and local level. The bulk of the costs — some $84.2 billion — are absorbed by state and local governments.

So let’s make the illegals legal, then. Call it amnesty if you want. Call it what you want. Just give them a chance. But it should not be an entitlement. The following should be required of illegal immigrants to address the concerns of the Federal Government and local communities to make them legal:

1. Pay a fine for breaking the law—entering this country illegally. The fine should be sufficient to punish for breaking the law, but not so draconian as to cripple their finances.
2. Buy health insurance for themselves and their families.
3. Pay a special school tax, if they have school-age children, to cover the cost of second language teachers.
4. Submit to fingerprinting and other procedures for security purposes.
5. Learn English for quicker integration into the American society.
6. Be ready for immediate deportation if breaking other US laws.
7. And yes, carry Federal IDs.

Once they become legal, all restrictions should go away and the now lawful citizens should be embraced fully by society. A smart balance between the desires of the individual and the needs of the society is the path to truth and justice — and it’s not just the Arizonian, but the American way.

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Mark Budman’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are about to appear in such magazines as Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine, McSweeney’s, Turnrow, Southeast Review, Mid-American Review, the W.W. Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, and elsewhere. He is the publisher of a flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press to wide critical acclaim.