Prop. 200 turns into another Ariz. folly 
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 20, 2005
Jon Talton, Republic columnist
Proposition 200, which seeks to deny state benefits to undocumented immigrants, has apparently done nothing to stanch the flow north into Arizona. The evidence indicates that immigration has, if anything, increased. The Mexican government is even distributing a Guide for the Mexican Migrant, and a similar pamphlet by the state of Yucatan comes with a helpful DVD.

The guide-writers at least recognize the reality of a transnational economy even as most Arizonans are still in denial.

It's instructive to consider what would be necessary to really stop undocumented immigration. We would accept higher federal taxes to close the border to illegal crossings as well as pay for the Justice Department lawyers who would prosecute the thousands of employers who hire the undocumented. We would set aside our faith in business to demand that those employers get hard time and heavy fines if convicted

We would welcome higher prices for everything by insisting that companies pay decent wages. That way, citizens would be able to take the jobs now done by immigrants. Then, faced with starvation and bloodshed on our doorstep, we would insist that Washington invest tens of billions of dollars to create jobs, infrastructure and hospitals in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. And Washington would demand that Mexico City get its own political house in order rather than using migration to avoid reform.

Even these measures would not change the reality of millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. No administration would be willing to deport them. For one thing, it would add the United States to the vile list of the world's "ethnic cleansing" nations. More importantly, it would cause the collapse of several industries, including construction, lodging and restaurants.

Instead, we could create the good schools and ladder of opportunity so that this foreign-born generation doesn't become a permanent underclass. Immigrant talent, after all, is essential to American competitiveness and to filling Social Security coffers.

There are many aspects to the complex reality of undocumented immigration, and it's undeniable that Arizona has suffered from some of them.

Along with hundreds of thousands of hard-working immigrants have come a few thousand criminals.

Also, like Chicago during Prohibition, some parts of Greater Phoenix have been turned into gangland killing fields by the smuggling trade. Partly because low-wage Arizona jobs lack benefits, migrant workers and their families are a heavy drag on the health care system.

Unlike California, Arizona never worked very hard to build a diverse, quality economy.

No wonder, then, that Arizona has been less able to capitalize on the benefits of migration. Nor does Arizona have the critical mass of talent and capital that can help offset the stresses of accepting large numbers of low-skilled migrants.

Now we face the strong likelihood that President Bush's immigration-reform proposal will be lost amid the battles of his second-term agenda, especially the attempt to privatize a part of Social Security.

But even with a guest-worker program, real reform will require more money and tough choices, both here and in Mexico.

We may come to wish we had spent the billions from Iraq closer to home.

Reach Talton at or (602) 444-8464.