Ross Douthat has a New York Times column today (5/3/10) criticizing those who are "impugning the motives" of the new Arizona immigration law, which
has been denounced as a "Nazi" or "near-fascist" law, a "police state" intervention, an imitation of "apartheid," a "Juan Crow" regime that only a bigot could possibly support.
Really, says Douthat, the Arizona law is an understandable if unfortunate response to the federal government's failure to "regain…control of its southern border. There is a widespread pretense that this has been tried and found to be impossible, when really it's been found difficult and left untried."
Douthat is quite vague about what he means by "control." If he has in mind policies that would freeze or slightly reduce the number of unauthorized immigrants in the country, we already have those. But Douthat is trying to present a vision of federal action on immigration that would potentially satisfy the people who pushed for Arizona's law, so clearly he has in mind something more ambitious.
Douthat sketches out what such "control" would mean, including "enforcement measures that will inevitably be criticized as draconian: some kind of tamper-proof Social Security card, most likely, and then more physical walls along our southern border." Actually, removing a substantial portion of an estimated 11 million people from the United States would require more than cards and walls; more likely, it would involve massive internment camps and forced transport reminiscent of Balkan ethnic cleansing, if not even grimmer historical precedents. Though it's clearly Douthat's intention to propose a kinder, gentler anti-immigration position for the Republican Party, there's no way to do such a thing in a way that could not be described as "draconian" in all fairness.
But it's Douthat's description of the economic measures necessary to secure that border that is most illuminating: "Curbing the demand for illegal workers requires stiff workplace enforcement, stringent penalties for hiring undocumented workers, and shared sacrifice from Americans accustomed to benefiting from cheap labor." The key phrase here is "shared sacrifice"; Douthat acknowledges, as few people on his side do, that the net effect of forcing millions of workers out of our economy would be serious hardship for those who remain.
"You can see why our leaders would rather duck the problem," Douthat writes. Yes, you can see why politicians don't want to destroy the lives of millions of people in order to worsen the economic condition of hundreds of millions. What's harder to explain is why some folks would want to do such a thing–explanations that don't involve bigotry, that is.