Thursday, April 26, 2012

On immigration, mass incarceration, revanchism, and the wet dreams of private prison executives

That's right, you're not from Texas. But Texas wants you anyway.
- Lyle Lovett

Supreme Court commentators speculate that Arizona may get clearance to round up and incarcerate illegal immigrants en masse under a law making state criminals of people with federal immigration violations. If that happens, though, other, more rational states can and almost certainly will make different choices for their own economic well being, as was their wont until relatively late in the nation's history.

From a constitutional and historical perspective, states including Texas regulated immigration instead of the feds until after the Civil War. For example, when leftist Germans rebelled in 1848-9 and were subjected to mass exile, New York wouldn't let the radicals in (according to Ernest Fischer), so they sailed down the coast and around the Gulf to Galveston, which as a result became the entry point throughout the 1850s for so much of Central Texas' German population in the earliest years of Texas statehood.

As late as 1869, Texas still had a state immigration officer. It wasn't until the late 1870s, when California wanted to stop the entrance of Chinese "coolies" while the federal government needed them to build railroads, that Congress declared immigration decisions exclusively under federal purview. And with states rights at their low ebb during Reconstruction, they found few if any jurists with the ideological predisposition to stand in their path.

So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised if, in a lurching feat of revanchism, the 21st century Supreme Court sides with Arizona and begins to re-empower states on immigration. If that happens, Grits expects or at least hopes Rick Perry and Co. will take a much different approach from that of AZ Governor Jan Brewer, who mused about the prospects for "mass incarceration" after oral arguments, according to NPR:
Outside after the argument, Arizona's governor was asked if, in fact, the state does have plans for a mass incarceration of the estimated 400,000 illegal immigrants in her state.

[Gov. Jan] Brewer paused for quite a long while and then replied: "If they're breaking the law, there's that possibility, I would assume."
One rarely hears it admitted publicly, but there it is. This is why maximum immigration enforcement is the private prison industry's wet dream, perhaps the only potential market on the horizon that could replace lost demand for prison beds if the drug war were ever to end (a possibility disclosed to investors in corporate filings as a serious risk to their long-term financial health). "Mass incarceration" is exactly what happens from criminalizing immigration status.

Texas locks up fewer than 160,000 inmates in state prisons, but according to census data, the number of "unauthorized" immigrants runs to ten times that number - more than 1.6 million people. To actually accomplish such a goal would require upheaval rivaled in history only by Soviet transmigration policies under Stalin, rounding up and incarcerating millions for the crime of finding a job, working, and raising a family on the wrong side of the border.

Of course, other common words for immigrants, unauthorized or not, are "customers," "employees," even "small business owners," and for the most part the Texas business community, at least, believes we need more of all of those. Imagine the economic impact if tomorrow all the nativists' fantasies were fulfilled and Texas suddenly had 1.6 million fewer consumers.

America is a nation of immigrants and the striving mentality they bring with them to their new home has defined this country's values since its inception. Let states call the shots to a greater degree, and some will cut off their noses to spite their face, as Arizona has done. But not all of them, and I believe Texas may still be a prominent exception: A lot of these billionaire Texas political donors are happy to spend money "swift boating" John Kerry or bankrolling presidential attack ads, but aren't necessarily on board with the whole round-up-my-employees thing.  Nor is much of law enforcement, for that matter. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus recently criticized proposals like Arizona's, declaring, “It would ruin the fragile relationship we've worked so hard to try to build in the community.”

Certainly there are plenty of Texas Republican primary voters slavish to such round-em-up demagoguery, but that segment of the party's base is split off from the GOP's biggest money-men on the issue. You saw the disconnect between Texan attitudes on immigration and the national GOP base when Rick Perry was blasted in the presidential campaign for signing Texas' DREAM Act. Most Texans are practical, particularly when it comes to business, and as a practical matter turning productive workers into prisoners whose room, board, and healthcare taxpayers must finance amounts to a fool's errand.

Grits supports comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship for two simple reasons: I oppose mass incarceration and support expanded immigration to boost the long-term stability of the economy. Further, it's smarter to choose to expand legal immigration thoughtfully than to live in some denial fantasy and pretend US labor demands haven't been the driving factor behind illegal immigration trends.

So let Arizona chase away their businesses' customers and their schoolchildren's playmates. As Lyle Lovett crooned, "Texas wants you anyway."


Anonymous said...

“It seems to me the federal government just doesn’t want to know who’s here illegally,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said at one point.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Neither does Texas. It might interfere with collecting immigrants' tax dollars or them showing up at the job site of some wealthy political contributor.

Anonymous said...

If ya think gingos or unemployed hillbillies are going to get off the couch and pick your veggies, well, good luck!

More important is that current immigration policy puts illegal Latinos on the wrong side of the law. The Arizona thing makes it worse. So, if I'm Jose Mexican and I'm already illegal, who cares if I sell a little dope to supplement my tax free income. Maybe some extortion, organized crime... Mexicans and people in general are opportunists.

Unfortunately this thinking is ingrained in illegal Latinos.

Why not give them a chance to go legit. I believe it is human nature to want to do the right thing. However current immigration policy has cut the legs out from under any desire to be legit, do the right thing and promotes criminal activity.

-Joe Gringo

Anonymous said...

Who's wanting to incarcerate them? If they're caught here illegally, put them on a one way bus to the international bridge at Laredo and send them back across the border. In the meantime, lets figure out a way to keep them from coming back.

Maybe it is impossible to deport them all. But a very good start would be deporting the ones who get caught.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

3:56 asks, "Who's wanting to incarcerate them?"

The state of Arizona, for starters. And the Justice Department. Private prison companies. The list goes on.

To deport, you must adjudicate. To do that, you must arrest and either grant bail or incarcerate until their hearing. Thus the increase in deportations under Obama has resulted in a large increase in immigration detention. It's arguably the biggest growth sector for private prison companies over the last several years.

doran said...

The know-nothings, racists, and lesser bigots of Arizona are just the people to embark on that "fools' errand" to which you refer.

Apparently, Arizona's Governor and her supporters are also math-challenged. They won't get it until over a very short period of time 400,000 people who pay sales taxes, buy clothing, groceries, vehicles, fuel and etc., pay rent or maybe ad valorem taxes on small homes, and do a lot of work most of the lazy-assed gringos will not do --- all of a sudden become residents of State supported housing, costing the Arizona tax payers about $30.00 a day.

When that happens, we will get to witness another facet of the know-nothing Arizonians' personalities -- hypocracy -- as they go crying to the Feds for fiscal help, taking just enough time-off from their demands for smaller federal government programs to do their bitching and begging.

And who will do all the shit-work?

Texas employers will probably, as Grits suggests, be beneficiaries of a SCOTUS decision affirming the Arizona deportation program.

Imagine how an Arizona Anglo, who is bitching about how the illegals are stealing work from Americans, would respond to an ad like this in a Phoenix newspaper:

"Wanted in Texas: Day laborers to mix and pour concrete, clear brush from fence lines, build barbed wire fences, harvest crops, cut yard grass, move heavy stones from point A to point B, dig ditches for pipelines, paint houses, pick-up trash, and do other work in 90+ degree weather. Neither a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent diploma is required. Minimum wage. No benefits. No health care. No on-site housing: Hook up with other laborers and rent a 3 bedroom, falling-down old house to sleep 10--12 people. Transportation from Arizona to Texas NOT provided: Walk from there to here for all we care. Latinos do similar mileage all the time."

Anonymous said...

As the progressives keep reminding us, there are still a few whites left in Texas. So, the battle is not completely won. There is still work to be done. There is still a need for immigration reform.