David Coates

Chapter 7: May 2010 Update

  • The big development in April 2010 came in Arizona with the signing of Senate Bill1070 into law, giving police officers (from August) the right to stop anyone when they had reasonable suspicion of their illegal presence in the country, and request papers. Defended from the right by Limbaugh (Obama would be defensive on papers, wouldn’t he – especially his own!) and initially to be followed by legislation in Arizona requiring all presidential candidates from 2012 to show their birth certificates, the law clearly reflected tea-party and ‘birther’ pressures in the Republican state; pressure that had already obliged John McCain to backtrack on his pro-comprehensive immigration reform position in the face of a primary challenge from J.D. Hayworth. The legislation was defended too by saner conservatives (George Will in particular) as the product of failure to legislate in Washington. He distributed that failure in a bipartisan way (see his “How Congress botched immigration reform”, The Washington Post, April 29, 2010). For an opinion piece challenging that, see Stumbling over a Mess of Your Own Making: Arizona and Immigration Reform, at http://blogs.alternet.org/coatesd/
  • The Arizona law was quickly condemned by the President and by a range of liberal commentators (see, for example, Jim Wallis, “Arizona’s Immigration Bill is a Social and Racial Sin”, The Huffington Post; posted April 21, 2010). Action by Republicans in Arizona at least triggered the national Democratic leadership into action – or rather, into the giving and taking back of a series of mixed signals. Harry Reid initially promised to bring a comprehensive reform bill to the floor without bipartisan support, then appeared to back off as Republican Senator Lindsay Graham threatened to pull out of talks on climate change legislation as well as immigration, only for Charles Schumer and his Democratic colleagues to issue their own outline for an immigration reform on april 29. The latter is heavy on enforcement at the border, but also clear on employer verification and routes back to citizenship. On May 1, 100,000 people marched in Los Angeles, and smaller numbers marched in 70 other cities, to protest the Arizona law and to press for comprehensive immigration reform. Calls for boycotts of Arizona goods and services now abound, and the Mexican Government has warned its citizens to be careful if visiting Arizona!
  • On tax day, April 15, the Center for American Progress issued its assessment of how much tax revenue would grow with the legalization of undocumented workers. Its total? Between $4.5 billion and $5.4 billion in tax revenues over three years. Meanwhile the number of undocumented workers in the US continued to fall: down from an estimated 12.5 million in 2007 to an estimated 10.8 million today, and still falling. Enforcement has intensified, deportations are running at a three year high between 230,000 and 390,000 annually), the costs of smuggling are now $3000 or more, and the demand for labor is less. Perfect time for legislation, one might have thought: time to stop the flow, legalize those here, enhance the revenues and block the super-exploitation of unprotected Latino labor. (for the latest figures, see The Washington Post, April 30, 2010)

David Coates holds the Worrell Chair in Anglo-American Studies at Wake Forest University. He is the author of Answering Back: Liberal Responses to Conservative Arguments, New York: Continuum Books, 2010.

He writes here in a personal capacity.

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