Is the U.S. Immigration Debate Going in the Right Direction?

By Mark Krikorian on February 23, 2011

Latin American Advisor, February 22, 2011

Q: New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican who became the state's first Latina governor after the November elections, rescinded an executive order by former Gov. Bill Richardson that prohibited law enforcement officials from asking people about their immigration status for the sole purpose of determining if the individual had violated immigration laws. Opponents have likened the bill to Arizona's SB1070 and claim the order will lead to racial profiling. Will other states follow suit and enact similar legislation? Is comprehensive immigration reform likely to be addressed this year and, if so, what would that consist of?

A: What Gov. Martinez has done in New Mexico is different from the Arizona law, but driven by the same concerns. This Hispanic Republican woman, elected by a convincing majority to run the nation's most Hispanic state, has simply ended New Mexico's status as a sanctuary for illegal aliens. Police are not required to examine immigration status, as in Arizona's SB 1070, but now may do so if it serves their specific law enforcement purposes. The idea that this is inappropriate — that law enforcement should be barred from enforcing the law — is a self-evident absurdity. But while the details are different, Martinez's move is consistent with the broad national unease over our feckless immigration policies. For too long our political and business elites have paid lip service to the public's demand for tight borders by supporting tough-sounding rules, while ensuring they are not enforced. This fundamental breach of faith is the source of the broad and vocal public support for "Arizona-style" legislation, by which people simply mean: "Enforce the law, already!" The move by Gov. Martinez — and similar measures around the country — represents an attempt to regain the trust of the public. Until this credibility gap is closed — until the public believes the government is actually doing everything it can to enforce the law — there is no possibility of "comprehensive immigration reform," i.e., amnesty for illegal aliens and large increases in future immigration in exchange for promises of future enforcement.