Monday, May 10, 2010

The High Cost of Deportation

Down in Texas, they love their rootin' tootin,' gun totin,' flag wavin,' Obama-bashing governor Rick Perry, a down home conservative if there ever was one.

This is the guy who won the undying love of the Tea Party set when he told a rally that Texans might get so fed up with Washington, they by golly just might secede from the union.

To his credit, he stopped short of calling for a resumption of the Civil War.

But despite - or may because of - his verbal excesses, conservatives think he's Mr. Right.

That's why more than a few eyebrows rose and brows furrowed when Perry recently shared his thoughts on the tough new Arizona immigration law, which would make failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.

Those who thought Perry would embrace the concept and have the Texas Rangers round up every Mexican from the Panhandle to Galveston Bay were sorely disappointed.

Instead, Perry said that while he fully recognizes and supports "a state's right and obligation to protect its citizens ... I have concerns with portions of the law passed in Arizona, and believe it would not be the right direction for Texas."

Primary among those concerns, he said, was that the local police and sheriffs would end up spending too much time corralling illegal immigrants and would neglect to catch criminals and keep the public safe.

Meanwhile, in Santa Monica, researchers at a Rand Corporation think tank were coming to the same conclusion. According to study done by Rand, a 2007 partnership between Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the sheriff's department in Maricopa County, Ariz., resulted in deputies identifying 16,000 illegal immigrants among 106,000 jail inmates over three months.

However, the effort racked up a debt of $1.3 million in only three months, the percentage of crimes the department solved dropped and police response time soared. The federal government has since canceled the agreement.

Even cities in Arizona understand the economics of this fiasco. The Tucson and Flagstaff city councils have voted to sue the state over its immigration law, citing concerns about enforcement costs.

It doesn't take a political scientist to determine why this Draconian legislation was signed into law. Arizona has become the point of entry for many illegals, drug wars rage across the border and the federal government has kicked the problem back and forth for years.

Why? Aside from the usual ideological gridlock in Washington, politicians don't want any part of immigration reform that calls for the mass deportation of illegals. It's political poison.

Republicans actively court Latinos as a swing bloc vote. No less a GOP icon than Condoleezza Rice said that not passing comprehensive immigration reform that would have legalized millions of undocumented immigrants in 2007 was her "deepest regret."

Democrats, while paying lip service to human rights concerns, understand that many illegals who come to the country and manage to establish themselves are potential union members. And without union support, the Democratic Party becomes an afterthought.

So, if the Arizona law is financially, politically and probably legally unworkable, what happens next?

Anyone who thinks that somehow the government will round up all 11million illegals in the U.S. and deport them is living in a dream world. It would cost at least $94 billion to find, detain and remove all those believed to be staying illegally in the U.S., according to federal government figures.

"It is impossible for this country to rout people out of our society and send them home. It's just not going to happen," said no less an expert than former President George Bush.

President Obama suggests removing incentives to enter the country illegally by cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants. It would offer citizenship to undocumented workers who would need to register, pay taxes and pay a penalty for violating the law. Failure to comply might result in deportation.

Those ideas, along with a major increase in border security, are a good start.

Unfortunately, the future of immigration reform rests with the politicians in Washington. And unless elected officials rise to the occasion, more Arizona laws, as wrong-headed as they may be, are inevitable.

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