Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What the Mad Hatter said

“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone: “so I can’t take more.”
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”
from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol

The above exchange came to mind when I was thinking about the likely effects of the new immigration law in Arizona, slated to take effect in January. See a description of the law here.
See how the Arizona business community is reacting to the law here. Read today's New York Times editorial about it here.

Insofar as the law is enforced (laws that negatively impact business often are not) I have no doubt that it will reduce illegal immigration and cause illegal immigrants already in Arizona to leave. But will the lives of the people of Arizona be better as a result?

Since Arizona’s current unemployment rate is at a rock bottom rate of 3% (the level at which every employable person who wants work is already employed, other than people temporarily between jobs) the law is hardly likely to reduce the unemployment rate.

Since no terrorist that we know of has entered the country by crossing the US border with Mexico illegally that number is unlikely to be reduced either. As the Mad Hatter said, you cannot have less than zero.

Since people who come to this country as adults (legally and illegally) commit about one fourth as many crimes as people of the same ethnicity and social-economic level who were born here reducing the number of illegal immigrants is unlikely to have a positive effect on the crime rate either.

There are hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants currently in Arizona's labor force. If this law is vigorously enforced it will create a labor shortage that will take years of increased legal immigration to alleviate. The short term effects on Arizona's economy are going to be devastating.

If the law is not broadly enforced, if it is only selectively enforced against only certain industries and as occasional publicity stunts for political purposes, then the likely effect is an increase in corruption and a continuing decrease in respect for the law.

In six months or so it will be interesting to ask Arizonians how that law is working out for them.

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