The Crescent Report

January 23, 2008

How Moral Are Our Local Laws?

Filed under: American-Politics, Immigration — Tags: — Imam Mahdi Bray @ 1:46 pm

By MUKIT HOSSAIN

TIMES-DISPATCH GUEST COLUMNIST
POTOMAC FALLS

As the elections drew closer in Virginia in 2007, anti-immigrant rhetoric from primarily Republican candidates grew more strident. Prince William supervisors wanted the police to check immigration status while Chairman Corey Stewart touted that Prince William had “deported” 56 illegals (counties can do that?). Loudoun supervisors claimed they would save millions by refusing services to “illegal immigrants,” and Herndon closed down a functioning day laborer site.

Now that the Virginia General Assembly is in session and anti-immigrant bills are pouring in, it’s time to remember that state and local legislators can deny services only to undocumented individuals, and only cause undue harassment to all immigrants, since any real solution must be federal.

Rather than trying to push for humane and rational federal laws, those who attack “illegal aliens” or undocumented workers using economic, social, and legal justifications don’t mention the following facts:

  • CONTRARY TO the rhetoric, it has never been established that undocumented workers cost the society more than what they contribute. There is strong evidence that their services are pivotal for our agricultural, construction, and hospitality industries.
  • Undocumented workers do not depress wage rates in the market, nor do they take away jobs from Americans. They perform jobs which most Americans don’t want. According to Jorge Borgas of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, “The reduction in earnings occurs regardless of whether the immigrants are legal or illegal, permanent or temporary. It is the presence of additional workers that reduces wages, not their legal status.” Ironically, those who make the wage-depression argument also argue that increasing the minimum wage would force outsourcing of American jobs to foreign countries.
  • There is no evidence that undocumented people disproportionately contribute to crime. A recent Washington Post report stated that only 5 percent of gang members in Loudoun are undocumented. Inquiries with the Police Department of Herndon during the effort to establish a day laborer site in 2005 did not reveal any discernible serious-crime statistic attributable to undocumented workers over the past 10 years. Recently Loudoun Force published a crime report for the period from 1996 to 2006 provided under the order of Sheriff Stephen Simpson. It states, “The crime report shows that the sharpest decrease in the crime rate in Loudoun County occurred during this same period of significant increase in the immigrant and undocumented immigrant population.”

The report also cites statistics provided by Kraig Troxell, public information officer for the Loudoun Sheriff’s Department, that of the 3,698 arrests in Loudoun County in 2007, only 32 had “ICE detainers” filed against them — that’s less than 1 percent of the arrests contributed by the supposed 5 percent undocumented people of Loudoun.

  • Undocumented workers are indeed guilty of law violations — but not of heinous crimes. They are guilty of not following procedural requirements that are long, expensive — and often insurmountable for people who face a brutal and protracted battle for survival against poverty. The poverty can be so unimaginable that it prompts them to undertake perilous and often fatal journeys across a foreign border, live in unspeakable conditions, and suffer inhuman mistreatment quietly. If one can imagine how desperate they must feel to risk that much, it becomes a human rights issue.

BENEATH THE superficial socioeconomic/legal justifications frequently cited by anti-immigrant groups are their real motives — bigotry and paranoia — constantly fanned by political candidates who rarely allow facts and morality to stand in the way of political expediency. This vitriolic propaganda polarizes our communities. It creates an environment of hate and suspicion toward all ethnic people by extension. It does nothing to bring about a constructive solution to the immigration problem — although sometimes it can win elections.

There is another insidious facet of this. A recent study by George Mason University revealed a gaping rift between the African-American and the Hispanic communities over the immigration issue. Misinformation about jobs lost to undocumented workers is becoming the wedge issue between the two largest minorities in America.

In the end, we must return to the question of morality. While our morality cannot be restricted by laws, all laws must be constrained by our morality and ethics. Our Founding Fathers opted for morality and human rights, and challenged existing laws to create the great ideal called America.

We must have the moral courage to do the same. Otherwise, we would surely become accessories to oppression, injustice, and immorality — and America will lose its moral ascendency. Local and state laws cannot resolve a problem that is essentially federal, and laws enacted to harass a helpless group of people must be viewed in that light.

  • Mukit Hossain is the president of the Virginia Muslim Political Action Committee.
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