Arizona’s recent declaration of war on people living without benefit of immigrant status is proving to have traction against the backdrop of America’s current economic and unemployment crises. Close to five per cent of the U.S. population is without legal status, and it’s the belief of a significant segment of Americans that those illegal immigrants are a strain on their nation’s economy because they work at lower wages, as well as being a drain on the U.S. health care system. Then, in states such as Arizona, there is the matter of related criminal activities including human trafficking and the illegal drug trade.
An estimated 14 million illegal immigrants live in the United States and, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, most of those without status are from Mexico. Ten years ago close to four million Mexicans were thought to be living illegally in the U.S. In 2000, non-status Europeans numbered more than one million, Jamaicans close to 40,000 and people from Trinidad and Tobago close to 45,000. U.S. immigration officials estimate that the illegal immigrant population grows by half a million each year, while the U.S. population of landed immigrants has expanded by one million each year since 2000.
Many Americans believe that the annual immigration quota is too high and should be returned to the 300,000 it was during the 1960s. But Washington, under the Obama Administration, has had more pressing priorities. Meanwhile, America is losing the battle to maintain the delicate balance between its principle as a land of refuge and its impulse to ‘circle the wagons’ against real and perceived terrorist threats.
It is also ironic that New York City – the site of Ellis Island, which welcomed so many of the world’s hopeful and down trodden – is also the place where the most dramatic expressions of terrorism have taken place.
At the Statue of Liberty, from which one can look to Manhattan where the towering World Trade Center once stood, there is the entreaty that reads in part, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…“
But the times have changed in America, post-9/11.
Since Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed the bill two weeks ago that permits Arizona state police to take over the role of federal law enforcement and actively ascertain the status of its residents, requiring immigrants to carry proof of their status, hundreds of individuals have been stopped. One police officer stated in a television news interview that more than 20 ‘illegal aliens’ were found in just one restaurant in one day. It is believed that other states will soon follow Arizona, in particular Texas, whose population is almost 40 per cent Hispanic, and which borders Mexico.
With three out of 10 people in Arizona being of Mexican heritage, the concern about racial profiling has reached fever pitch and has been accompanied by huge protests. Washington’s failed ‘war on drugs’, the related crime, economic hardship in Mexico and America’s family reunification platform in its immigration policy have made Mexicans, especially, a target for those gunning for illegal immigrants. Hispanics are the largest minority in the United States at 15 per cent (46.9 million in 2009). Only Mexico has more Hispanics than the U.S. And 16 states have at least half a million Hispanics including Arizona, California, Colorado and Florida.
Many Anglo-Americans are unhappy with what they consider the takeover of America by Hispanics. Not only are they unhappy, there are organizations working for reform both in favour of illegal immigrants and against them. Those who are against illegal immigrants favour deportation and other punitive measures while those who support them favour amnesty.
Many of the areas to which Mexicans now migrate, legally and illegally, were a part of Mexico up until the mid-19th Century. Perhaps today’s migrating Mexicans are trying in their own organic way to retrieve Texas, California, Arizona and the other southwestern states that were ceded to the U.S. Could this then be the 21st Century version of the Mexican-American War?