Arizona has been ground zero in the fight against illegal immigration – but a funny thing happened this week when a new anti-illegal alien state law went into effect. Nothing.
The law, one of the toughest in the nation, requires jurisdictions to investigate complaints by ordinary citizens against local businesses that may be employing illegal aliens. But apparently most Arizonans have better things to worry about. A spokesman for the state attorney general said his office had received about a half-dozen calls. Some jurisdictions, including Pima County, which runs along the border with Mexico, received no complaints. It's not exactly what you'd expect if Arizonans were champing at the bit to run illegal aliens out of the state and punish their employers.
A new study by the conservative think tank Americas Majority Foundation (www.amermaj.com) suggests a possible explanation why more Arizonans aren't rushing to run off illegal workers. It turns out Arizonans may be better off – not worse – because of the presence of so many immigrants in the population. This sounds counterintuitive, at least if you believe current political rhetoric and tendentious research by anti-immigrant groups such as the Center for Immigration Studies, NumbersUSA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
But the Americas Majority Foundation data are pretty persuasive. States with the highest percentage of immigrants or the largest recent influx of immigrants – 19 High Immigrant Jurisdictions, or HIJs, in all – are wealthier, have better employment numbers and most have better crime figures than those with fewer immigrants. In Arizona, for example, personal income is higher, as is the gross state product, the measure of all economic activity in the state. Unemployment is lower, as is household poverty. And crime is lower than both the national average and the average among states with fewer immigrants.
And, the trends for HIJs are every bit as good as the absolute numbers. Not only are gross state product, personal income, per capita personal income, disposable income, per capita disposable income, median household income and per capita median personal income higher than in other states, but they have been growing at faster rates between 1999 and 2006 than in other states.
In the area of crime, the trends are especially encouraging for HIJs. The 10 high influx states, those that experienced the most dramatic percentage increases in immigrant population from 2000-07, had the lowest rates of violent crime and total crime, according to FBI figures. In 1999, the 19 HIJs did have higher crime rates, but the rates declined much faster than they did in lower immigration states over the next seven years: 13.6 percent faster compared with 7.1 percent in total crime and 15 percent compared with 1.2 percent in violent crime, leading to lower crime rates overall in HIJs in 2006.
These statistics don't suggest that illegal immigration is not a problem for many jurisdictions. Illegal immigrants do impose costs, including increased health care and education expenses. Ironically, one of the growing costs is for incarcerating illegal aliens picked up in immigration raids or for offenses that usually don't justify jail time.
These increases are a direct result of efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. And if states such as Arizona decide to vigorously enforce their new laws, we can expect to see these costs go up without much, if any, offset in savings to those jurisdictions.
The immigration debate is likely to continue untempered by the facts the Americas Majority Foundation has pulled together, at least through the political primary season. But the overwhelming majority of Americans – two-thirds to three-fourths, according to most polls – have no wish to see most long-term illegal alien residents rounded up and sent home. What they do want is a more concerted effort to secure the borders so the numbers don't keep increasing.
Citing a November Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, the Manhattan Institute's Tamar Jacoby noted recently that “63 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents favor allowing illegal immigrants who meet certain conditions – registering, being fingerprinted, paying a fine and learning English – to earn citizenship over time.” Jacoby points out that the politicians don't seem to be listening. But if we can get through 2008, maybe the sound of silence emanating even from places like Arizona will finally be heard.
Chavez, a nationally syndicated columnist, is the author of “An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal.”