Battling ignorance

Posted on July 17, 2010. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns |

Just prior to the Independence Day weekend, the results of a Marist poll were released showing that 26 percent of Americans either weren’t sure or didn’t know which country the United States declared independence from in 1776.

The forthcoming headlines bemoaned citizen ignorance; frankly, I’m surprised three out of four could correctly identify Great Britain as the mother country.

Ignorance is a corrosive agent in a populace. It’s difficult for a people to perpetuate a nation if they are unaware of its founding principles and foundational history.

But sometimes, not knowing much about history is less damaging than not knowing much about current events. An appropriate instance is the subject of illegal immigration, where people know virtually nothing about past immigration woes, and even less about those confounding states like Arizona today.

Indeed, thanks to less-than-robust reporting in the mainstream media, many people have successfully made the transition from being uninformed on the issue to being misinformed.

The whole issue is a sad episode in both governance and citizenship — the former for abdicating its responsibilities, and the latter for allowing apathy and anecdotal information to replace facts in public discourse.

The United States government is suing Arizona over its latest attempt to stem the tide of illegals pouring across its Mexican border to pilfer, pillage and prey upon residents there.

Fed up with federal inaction, Arizona passed a law requiring police, while enforcing other laws, to question a person’s immigration status if there’s reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally. It also requires legal immigrants to carry their immigration documents and bans day laborers and people who seek their services from blocking traffic on streets.

Laughably, the Obama administration’s primary argument in its lawsuit is that Arizona is pre-empting federal authority in the matter.

It’s true that there are already federal statutes addressing illegal immigration. But Arizona’s counter — echoed by other states considering similar legislation — is that laws without enforcement don’t work. Thus the state is justified in taking matters into its own hands, and courts.

Legal barbs aside, what’s really missing here is a sound understanding of the facts about illegal immigration and its social ill-effects.

The very first problem with illegal immigration is also the most significant: it creates, and fosters, an entire life outside the law in a country that is supposed to be a nation of laws, not men.

By breaking the most fundamental law of citizenship, illegal immigrants essentially embrace a culture of criminality and lawlessness.

That’s not to say that a great many illegal immigrants undertake to live productive lives, contributing the fruits of their labor to reap the rewards of the American dream. But living a lie is never the same as living the truth, and the deceit necessary to avoid possible deportation still stains other honorable and honest intentions.

This serves to explain, in some degree, the disproportionate propensity toward criminal activity by illegal immigrants. Arizonans are all too familiar with the ugly, violent underbelly of the illegal culture.

Even as metropolitan area violent crime rates dipped 20 percent between 2000 and 2008, according to FBI statistics, it jumped in smaller towns outside metro areas and in rural counties by 39 and 45 percent, respectively.

Besides, what’s to celebrate about a crime rate sinking to 2000 levels, as though the millennial year marked some sort of low water mark? Violent crime was horrible in Arizona in 2000, well above the national average and nearly three times worse than it was in 1960.

Even the latest reported rates are still more than twice that which Arizona inhabitants enjoyed throughout most of the 1960s.

The criminal effects of illegal immigration are expanding well beyond the borders of states like Arizona and California. A U.S. Justice Department study of 55,322 illegal alien criminals in 2007 showed an astonishing proclivity for multiple arrests and offenses.

Government researchers found that the study population had been arrested at least a total of 459,614 times — averaging eight arrests per illegal immigrant. A full 97 percent had more than one arrest, and one in four had more than 11 arrests.

Those arrests covered more than 700,000 criminal offenses, according to the report, for an average of 13 per illegal immigrant. The correlation is clear and not surprising — living as an illegal results in a much higher per capita rate of criminality.

Crime often goes underreported among illegal populations, too, since victims fear the prospect of deportation even more than they fear the criminal brutes preying on them.

Arizona’s law isn’t a panacea. With some 400,000 illegals in residence, the drain on local police resources could quickly become onerous. But it is an act in the right direction, and perhaps it will motivate the president and the Congress to get back to basics on controlling our borders and protecting our citizens.

Illegal immigration is an epidemic now. It will never be treated successfully with ounces of prevention, chased down with ignorance.

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