As the start date of Arizonas new immigration law, SB 1070, approaches, the Los Angeles Times has published an article on a nearly three-month-old homicide in Phoenix that no one but the victims family claims had anything to do with Arizonas immigration initiativenot the Hispanic neighbors of the alleged killer and his victim, not the police, not even illegal-alien advocacy groups. Its just weird to hear them say hes racist, one of the suspects Hispanic acquaintances marvels. The suspect had expressed his opposition to Arizonas law just days before the May 6 shooting; he had invited his Hispanic neighbors to Thanksgiving last year. As for the victim, he did not get shot because he was Mexican, a local civil rights activist maintains.
And yet the Times has put the story on its front page as part of its coverage of SB 1070. Why? The official reason: as an illustration of how incidents in the state now get interpreted through the prism of the new law. The real reason: to suggest that the Arizona lawwhich officially authorizes a police officer, during a lawful police stop, to check the immigration status of people whom he suspects of being in the country illegallyis fueling a wave of possibly homicidal hatred against Hispanics. Evidence for this proposition, which has been embraced by editorialists and activists across the country? Zero.
When the Arizona law is not provoking possible hate crimes, its destroying the states economy, according to the Times. Last Fridays front-page story suggested that the law was decimating the customer base of Phoenix businesses, as illegal aliens allegedly fled the state. As the paper admitted, its impossible to distinguish the effects of the recession from the effects of the law. But even if the law causes a temporary drop-off in local business patronage, that tells you nothing about the larger effects of illegal immigration on a state or national economy. True, more people mean more customers for local business. But not all customers are the same.
The low-skilled, low-educated population of illegal aliens and their progeny in Arizona and elsewhere costs taxpayers large sums in remedial education, emergency-room care, welfare, and jail and prison costs. In many areas, the costs associated with illegal immigration go up in the second and third generation, as the American-born children and grandchildren of illegals get sucked into underclass culture. Illegal aliens make up 22 percent of the felony defendants in Arizonas largest county, Maricopa, and more than 17 percent of the states prison population, though they are roughly 10 percent of Maricopa Countys population and a lower percentage of the states population. Their childrens crime rates are undoubtedly higherthe incarceration rate of Mexican immigrants jumps more than eightfold between the first and second generations, resulting in a prison rate for Mexican-Americans that is 3.45 times higher than that of whites, according to an analysis of 2000 census data by the Migration Policy Institute. But even in the first generation, the Mexican incarceration rate1.8 percent of all 12- to 24-year-oldsis higher than the incarceration rate for that same age group in the overall American population1.4 percentaccording to a Manhattan Institute study of assimilation.
The Hispanic teen pregnancy rate is the highest of any ethnic group in the countrythree times that of whites, and 27 percent higher than that of blacks. The Hispanic illegitimacy rate53 percentis growing faster than that of any other ethnic group. Children raised by teen and single mothers experience high levels of poverty, school failure, and juvenile delinquency.
The long-term consequences of illegal immigration for American competitiveness cannot be captured in a months worth of local sales receipts. The Educational Testing Service foresees the countrys first drop in literacy and numeracy by 2030 if the current mix of low-skilled immigrants remains unchanged. California remains the bellwether for all things pertaining to illegal immigration: thanks to immigration, the state has dropped from the seventh-most-educated state in the nation in 1970 to the least-educated state today, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. Large numbers of Californias Hispanic students continue to be classified as non-native English language learners through much of their school years, even though they speak English and were either born here or taught here through most of their lives, because their academic and formal linguistic skills are so deficient. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems has predicted that Californias per-capita income will drop by 11 percent from 2000 to 2020 because of the poor academic performance of Latino students, many of whom are the progeny of illegal immigrants. In Arizona, the federal government has been contributing at least $600 million a year in an effort to bring the states underperforming students, the vast majority of whom are the children and grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants, up to par, without a massive positive effect.
And as for costs to Arizonas legal workers, Harvard economist George Borjas estimates the lowered wages and lost job opportunities caused by Arizonas illegal population at more than $200 million annually, as he told the federal district court in the Obama administrations lawsuit against SB 1070. The Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates that illegal aliens cost Arizona taxpayers $2.5 billion annually.
The Los Angeles Timess story on the alleged effects of SB 1070 on Phoenix stores leaves out another critical fact: if illegal aliens are actually leaving Arizona in anticipation of the laws implementation, a major plank of the open-borders manifesto has been demolished. For years, open-borders advocates argued that immigration enforcement is helpless against illegal entry. Therefore, the illegal-alien lobby concluded, the country should stop wasting resources on futile enforcement efforts. Rather, it should legalize everyone now here illegally and let the determination of who enters the country and joins the polity rest with the billions of people who live outside our borders, not with American voters.
The alleged effect of Arizonas new law blows that argument out of the water. It turns out that immigration enforcement appeared to have little effect on illegal entry because it had never really been tried: once an illegal alien got across the border, he entered a nearly 6-million-square-mile national sanctuary zone where his chances of encountering a federal immigration agent were extremely low. The real reason for opposition to SB 1070 is that it will make immigration enforcement a reality and in so doing will show that law enforcement works; the hue and cry over racial profiling is merely a pretext. Even if the federal judge now reviewing the Obama administrations case enjoins SB 1070 before its supposed start date this Thursday, enough will have been learned about immigration enforcement to have made Arizonas experiment with the rule of law a milestone.
Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal, the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and coauthor of The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Todays.