07/27/2010 10:25 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Arizona Immigration Law Founded on Fear and Falsehood

Provided it is not blocked by a federal judge, Arizona's tough and controversial crackdown on illegal immigration -- officially called the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act," but usually referred to as "SB 1070" -- is set to go into effect on July 29. The law has a total of 38 separate provisions that can sorted out into five different categories that:

  • mandate the enforcement of federal immigration laws by state and local law enforcement agencies;

  • require immigrants to carry identification and define as trespassing the presence of any undocumented migrant anywhere in Arizona;
  • outlaw the practice of hiring day workers;
  • prohibit the transportation of undocumented migrants; and
  • empower the state to prosecute employers who hire undocumented immigrants.
  • Because I have written a book about undocumented migration, Neighbor: Christian Encounters with "Illegal" Immigration, due out on August 16, 2010, a fair number of people have asked me what I think about SB 1070, and the answer is this: I don't like the law. I don't like the law because I think it encourages racial profiling; I don't like the law because I doubt it is constitutional; but most of all I don't like SB 1070 because, as far as I can tell, SB 1070 was passed in response to a host of fears about immigration that have little grounding in reality.

    When she signed the bill into law, Arizona's governor provided the following rationale for lending her support to SB 1070:

    I've decided to sign Senate Bill 1070 into law because, though many people disagree, I firmly believe it represents what's best for Arizona. Border-related violence and crime due to illegal immigration are critically important issues to the people of our state, to my Administration and to me, as your Governor and as a citizen.

    There is no higher priority than protecting the citizens of Arizona. We cannot sacrifice our safety to the murderous greed of drug cartels. We cannot stand idly by as drop houses, kidnappings and violence compromise our quality of life.

    We cannot delay while the destruction happening south of our international border creeps its way north.

    We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act. But decades of federal inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation.

    A quick web search shows that Governor Brewer's remarks tend to reflect the zeitgeist of the American people. Many of us believe more must be done to stop an invasion of a ravenous horde of aliens hell-bent on destroying the American Dream.

    The trouble is, these fears hardly are supported by facts. According to the Arizona Republic, crime rates along the border have remained flat over the last decade, despite a growing population and an explosion of crime in Mexico. In Arizona's major cities, crime rates actually have fallen. While the estimated population of undocumented immigrants in the United States doubled between 1994 and 2004, violent crime in America dropped by 35 percent.

    The apparent lack of a connection between undocumented immigrants and crime has not stopped politicians and pundits from propagating unsubstantiated rumors of unmitigated horror along our southern border. Since signing SB 1070, Arizona's governor has claimed that border patrol agents have found a growing number of decapitated corpses of undocumented migrants in the Arizona desert (untrue), Arizona senator John McCain has suggested that undocumented migrants intentionally crash their cars on Arizona roads (plain weird), and Rush Limbaugh has declared President Obama "fit for the psycho ward" for claiming (correctly) that the border is more secure than it has been in the last 20 years.

    This troubles me because as an American I want the laws of my country -- and its states -- to be grounded in the best information available, impartially collected and delivered without prejudice to lawmakers who care more about governing wisely than about promoting a political narrative that supports a preconceived agenda.

    And as a person of faith I care about telling the truth, especially when questions of truth and falsehood are matters of life and death for the human beings who cross the border in search of a better life for themselves and for their families. These are people who, suffering hardship south of our border, travel north, often risking their lives to work at jobs most Americans won't do. They pick lettuce in the Salinas Valley, clean toilets in Seattle, wash dishes in Toledo, and mow lawns in Chevy Chase. They're doing us a big favor by saving us money on the cost of labor. If we're going to pass laws that make life more difficult for them than it already is, we ought to have the decency to base those laws on what is verifiably and objectively true.