The legal system and the economic system collided on Monday, June 25 in Arizona. The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision on the constitutionality of the controversial law known as “papers please”. This nickname was perhaps inevitable when Governor Jan Brewer first unveiled the statute. The law requires law enforcement to request proof of legal immigration status based on a suspicion that a person is an illegal immigrant.
Lawsuits contesting the constitutionality of the law were filed practically before the ink was dry. As written it is an unspoken invitation not just to profile people based on outward appearances, but to use that profile in an abuse of power. The Arizona Governor is claiming victory because the state can continue to request proof of legal status to be in the U.S. The Obama Administration is claiming victory because the Court found the rest of the law unconstitutional. The police can stop a motorist and request papers verifying immigration status – but police may not use their authority for profiling, nor may they hold someone for an “unreasonable” amount of time while determining their status.
The free market may be the real decision maker here. People who depend on tourism for their livelihoods may wish the bill was just a bad dream. In the one year since the law passed Arizona has lost over $253 million just from tourism.
Companies that planned conferences in the state have pulled back some of their money also. Over $141 million worth of the stuff has disappeared. All those hotel room rentals, air fare fees, restaurant and shopping dollars gone. It’s not a fun time back at the office if the Chief Financial Officer or Salesperson of the Year misses the awards dinner while waiting for a fax of their birth certificate.
The estimated loss of anywhere from $9 million in tax revenue (some estimates are as high as $23 million) will hurt when it comes time for the State to pay for highway patrol expenses. How will the state even try to measure what it costs citizens and businesses that are victims of crimes committed while the police are tied up waiting for papers for a person detained for jaywalking.
Other states are feeling the heat of similar restrictions. Georgia law has not even taken effect and an estimated 30% of immigrants have fled the state. They may not have enough workers to harvest thousands of acres of tomatoes. Florida farmers are predicting they will lose $1 billion in unharvested crops. Not only will they lose their income, consumers will pay a lot more for what does get harvested. Supply and demand in effect.
A critical flaw in all these efforts is the underlying assumption that an immigrant is automatically illegal. We have people who arrived as immigrants and are now U.S. citizens. We have people who are here with student visas and work visas. Business leaders loudly lament government regulation and red tape. They report it increases costs and reduces productivity. Just imagine how they feel about SB 1070, and its new layer of paperwork (pun intended).
The Court’s ruling may have only deepened the divide between political expediency and economic reality. Just because a person can prove he or she is in the U.S. legally doesn’t mean they will like having to carry that proof with them. They certainly won’t like knowing they could be stopped at any time, then detained for some undetermined amount of time. It’s not just inconvenient. It’s humiliating.
In her zeal to demonstrate just how anti-immigrant she can be, Brewer may be proving how anti-business she can be. Businesses that need chemical engineers or mechanics, hospitals that need nurses or technicians and entrepreneurs who need computer networks and support all may come looking for you. Not to see your papers…but to fill the jobs that will help them thrive.