Immigration Stories Signal Social Justice Movement

In Arizona this past week, the state legislature passed what is considered to be among the toughest immigration-enforcement bills in the country. Host Liane Hansen talks with Ruben Navarrette Jr., columnist and editorial board member of The San Diego Union-Tribune, about the Arizona bill and the latest headlines emerging from the debate over illegal immigration.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The civil rights activism of the '60s inspired social justice movements that continue today. Take the immigration issue. In Arizona this past week, the state legislature passed what is considered to be among the toughest immigration enforcement bills in the country. If signed into law, immigrants would be required to carry proper paperwork and local police would be allowed to check the status of anyone suspected of being undocumented.

For more, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette joins us from the studios of KOGO in San Diego, California. First, welcome to the program, Ruben.

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Columnist): Great to be back with you.

HANSEN: Explain some of the elements of this bill in a little more detail.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, the first thing I should say, even though I'm a syndicated columnist based in San Diego, I spent two years in Arizona, Phoenix, working for the Arizona Republic, covering immigration issues. And the element of this bill, sort of what's in it, it's unconstitutional on its face. Let's just start with that.

Basically, what you're taking is a federal responsibility to enforce immigration law and saying that the state of Arizona should from this point on be responsible for that. And to put teeth behind it you're going to empower all of your local and state law enforcement officers to try to determine people's immigration status. And then once they ask for identification and someone can't produce it, that person can be ticketed, fined, jailed, arrested.

It's just not logical in many ways. It doesn't even amount to a deportation proceeding because there's no way that the state of Arizona could deport people. So, the same folks who I guess passed this law in the hopes that you'd be able to get rid of illegal immigrants are merely going to end up giving fines to people who aren't likely to pay them anyway.

HANSEN: Let me ask you about your experience in Arizona. How does that inform your take on this issue?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, specifically, you know, it's very difficult to get people to move to Arizona - it had been traditionally. So, during the '90s when there was a population boom in Maricopa County, it was seen as a source of pride. Everywhere I went, people talked about it, at the chamber of commerce and elsewhere: Look at the all the people who are moving to Maricopa County. And so there was this real sense that we have to get people to move to Maricopa County because that grows the tax base, it grows the population and cities become successful.

Well, the people who were driving that growth, swinging the hammers, are illegal immigrant labor. And now after all that work is done they turn around and say, oh my gosh, there are Mexicans in Arizona. How did that happen? It happened because they were complicit in the hiring of illegal immigrants for all those years.

The worst thing I can say about this law is not that it's unconstitutional, it's that it's hypocritical. It is dishonest.

HANSEN: Let me ask you this, though, I mean, as someone who has observed and written about all of this. The opponents across the border states say that undocumented immigrants drain the local economies and that they are national security concerns. Given that range, do you have any idea what a compromise would be?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, I love to discuss the 2007 compromise, which had the effect that it was being driven by a bipartisan group of senators. This was right down the middle. You need to have better enforcement, you need to have a earned pathway to legalization for some of the people who are here illegally, you got to have a guest worker plan to bring in a new group of workers seasonally to do jobs Americans won't do and we have to get over our pride and admit that there are jobs Americans won't do.

And then lastly, Id like to see, related to what happened in Arizona, just get rid of this notion of a 287-G program that allows local law enforcement officers to enforce immigration law. That is a recipe for disaster. I speak to you not just as the grandson of a Mexican immigrant, but the son of a cop. My dad was a cop for 37 years. You don't want your local cops enforcing immigration law, because that's going to scare the heck out of everybody and certainly not going to get any witnesses, people coming forward to report crimes and you're going to end up creating more crime than you're solving.

HANSEN: Syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette joined us from the studios of KOGO in San Diego, California. Ruben, nice to talk to you again. Thanks.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Great talking to you. Thank you.

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