Two Key Points in the New Yorker Article on Arizona's Immigration Politics

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on May 23, 2012

There is a lot to chew on in the May 28 issue of The New Yorker about Arizona's politics of immigration and the race for the Senate seat that will be left open by the impending retirement of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). "Raging Arizona: How a border state became a battleground" was written by Kelefa Sanneh, who has a talent for paragraphs that are at once packed with information and gracefully constructed.

The purpose of this post is to call attention to two points that I found particularly salient in the story, which is behind The New Yorker pay wall. The first describes a moral dilemma that is seldom addressed in immigration reporting. The second reports essential demographic facts that, as far as I can tell, have never before been included in a national publication's reporting on illegal immigration in Arizona. (If I'm wrong, I would welcome a correction).

The first point is here:

The inclusive logic of the immigration rights movement suggests that everyone in the country has the right to be here — which implies that everyone not in the country has the right to come here, too, preferably without being made to run a potentially lethal obstacle course in the Arizona desert. On what reasonable basis could anyone be excluded? Proponents of reform often call for compassion, but it's hard to imagine any immigration restriction that could be considered truly compassionate. A guest-worker program would make life easier for some unauthorized immigrants, but it would also make their second-class status explicit. There is no way to reconcile the liberal ideal of equality with the fundamental inequality of American citizenship, a valuable asset disproportionately distributed to some of the richest people on the planet.

And the second here:

Arizona has sometimes been portrayed as a state besieged by unauthorized immigrants, and for good reason. In the past two decades … the state's population of unauthorized immigrants has soared. In 1990, there were fewer than a hundred thousand in Arizona; by 2006 … there were nearly five hundred thousand, in a state whose population was about six million.

Sanneh's observation about green card distribution obscures the reality that the great bulk of green cards are rewarded on the basis of family connections (aka, nepotism), not wealth. I could offer other quibbles about the portrayal of my old home state. And the admiring focus on the liberal Democrat seeking Sen. Kyl's seat will leave the two Republicans candidates feeling dissed once again by the media elite. Nevertheless, the fact is that The New Yorker has published a story that made an honest, nuanced, non-condescending attempt to understand the illegal immigration debate in the state that has become the focal point of the national discussion. To me, at least, that is a welcome surprise from the lofty towers of Manhattan.

Although the article is available online only to subscribers, there will be an online chat with the author about it this afternoon at 3 p.m. Eastern. Details here.