Immigration fears not based in truth
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 2, 2003
O. Ricardo Pimentel, Columnist
The belief that a Mexican reconquest of the Southwest is under way is clearly
part of what is driving our latest initiative aimed at undocumented immigrants.
I've poked fun at this topic in the past. But it's time to get serious.
I'm growing more convinced each day that, whether we call it reconquest or give
it some other more neutral term, the belief that it is occurring is pervasive in
Arizona, held by people you might not suspect of harboring such notions.
The fear is that Mexicans in particular are arriving in such numbers that they
will change the character of the state to the detriment of us all. English will
become lingua non grata. All of our institutions will be stressed beyond belief.
This view is not one held just by nuts. Perfectly rational people are among the
folks for whom the "browning" of Arizona holds peril.
They legitimately fear the effect of surplus labor on wages.
They understandably fear the effect of many low-income and
English-challenged kids attending school alongside their kids.
They see the number of Latinos in the Arizona Health Care and Cost-Containment
System and know, for a fact, that the U.S.-born children of immigrants are
swelling the rolls.
And all those Spanish-language billboards they pass on the street and the
channels they surf through on their television give them pause.
These are not trivial concerns. (Well, except for this last one).
Here's the thing, though. No one ever said immigration, legal or not, didn't
have a price. It's just that it has always been worth paying and still is. In
fact, it's a bargain.
But really, there's a very simple way to get rid of undocumented immigrants:
Stop creating the low-paying jobs that attract them. Start boycotting all those
service industries unless they pay $15 an hour for menial or low-skilled labor.
Refuse to buy a house from builders who haven't paid double that to the least
skilled of their employees.
Oh, wait. As a friend pointed out recently, this would make unions happy. And
this is a right-to-work state, which translates into better living through lower
wages. It has been our motto for a while.
But we all really know that U.S. business is not going to suddenly increase
wages for service or construction labor.
Inundated? There are an estimated 280,000 undocumented Mexican immigrants in
Arizona. This is 5.2 percent of the state's total population of 5,307,331.
That's hardly an inundation.
But again, no one disputes that undocumented immigration has its price. Yes,
Latinos are about 40 percent of those served by AHCCCS. About 35 percent are
White. But you can only get served if you are a citizen or a resident here
legally for more than five years.
Let me refer you again to the Economic Impact of the Mexico-Arizona
Relationship, a report put together by Thunderbird, the American Graduate School
of International Management. It notes a net plus for Arizona in the
Other studies through the years nationally have done the same thing.
But really, among the most steadfast anti-immigrants, it doesn't matter.
It's not really about the rule of law either. You know, illegal is illegal is
What's really eating folks is the takeover. The reconquest. The insinuation of
Mexicans and Mexican culture, allegedly undermining traditions, language and
burdening our institutions.
Relax. If you feel some concern on this score, this just makes you human.
Fortunately, humans can reason.
Between 1860 and 1920, the foreign-born in the United States hovered between 13
percent and a high of 15 percent. Today, it is about 11.5 percent - only
slightly more than half of that from Latin America.
Those folks back between 1860 and 1920 were "different," too. They spoke
different languages and were considered "alien."
Oh, yes. They came "legally." Well, actually, if you just showed up, you pretty
much got in. We've had more than a century to improve on the process. It now
takes too long for even the most patient person to wait, just to hear "no way."
And then we are surprised that no one wants to use the process.
And as a RAND study note d recently, Latinos are assimilating at roughly the
same rates as previous immigrants.
Of course we'll change. And change can be scary.
But we know from previous immigration waves that past fears were unfounded.
We can learn from that.