Alien Nation

Undocumented workers constitute the biggest political issue in Arizona. But do we want to send them packing?

Let's just say Proposition 200 supporters got their wish: all 300,000 or so illegal immigrants left the Valley.

Hallelujah! Prop 200 supporters would say.

Arizona is doomed, Prop 200 detractors would lament.

A new day would dawn. Emergency-room waits would plummet. Hospitals could become solvent. Violent crime might drop.

However, soiled hotel sheets would go unchanged, hospital bedpans unwashed. Tourists and patients might head for Las Vegas.

New homes could take five years to build instead of five months. New-home prices would skyrocket, driving away buyers. Used-home values would skyrocket, driving up property taxes.

The price of a nanny likely would double.

Increased nanny salaries might attract unemployed American citizens who had never before considered becoming nannies.

However, with higher taxes and prices, nobody could afford a nanny anymore.

Unemployed American nannies might go on welfare and move into barrios left vacant by exiting illegals. Out of boredom and hopelessness, their children surely would form gangs.

But in time, unemployed nannies might take construction jobs at the higher wages since work-for-next-to-nothing illegals have disappeared.

With their new money and skills, the former nannies might fix up their inner-city homes and sell them to a new urban gentry. The ex-nannies could then move to California, which would then be cheaper.

Which would create a worker shortage, which in all likelihood would spawn a Mexican guest-worker program.

And then the sky would fall.

Or it wouldn't.

Or hell would freeze over.

Or it wouldn't.

And this is pretty much all the best minds in economics really know about what would happen if Proposition 200 had its intended effect.

Or, for that matter, about the issue at the core of Prop 200: the actual cost-benefits to Arizona of illegal immigration.

"Anybody who says they've got more than an educated guess on the impact of illegal immigration on Arizona is just full of it," says Wayne Cornelius, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California-San Diego and one of the top immigration researchers in the country. "The data just isn't there to make a definitive argument."

As of press time, it was still unknown if Prop 200 would pass or fail. The massive support the measure had just weeks before the election had plummeted so severely, pollsters said, that Prop 200 was no longer the lock it once was.

In reality, it matters little whether it wins or loses.

Prop 200's laws would be nearly impossible to enforce and likely would be the subject of court battles for years.

What's more important is the public sentiment behind the vote.

Arizonans want something done now about illegal immigration.

But what to do?

New Times interviewed dozens of top immigration experts and officials, pored over raw economic numbers as well as thousands of pages of the best immigration research around, talked to real Americans, real illegals, and real politicians, and, in the end, came to the same dreary conclusion as Cornelius.

Definitive answers are rare or nonexistent.

Indeed, the only definitive statement that can be made is that no definitive statements can be made until government at all levels in Arizona begins properly collecting and analyzing data relevant to the issue of illegal immigration. The raw data needed is so sparse, in fact, that it seems as though politicians and bureaucrats are willfully keeping it sparse.

That said, educated guesses on causes, effects and solutions still can be enlightening.

And on a topic that Arizona voters now say is their greatest concern -- a topic now dominated by hot emotions, conflicting legislation, dimwitted demagoguery and knee-jerk political correctness -- educated guesses are the best we have.


State Representative Russell Pearce was co-chairman of the Yes on Prop 200 committee.

For the majority of Arizona political leaders, and most knowledgeable voters near the center, that fact alone should have inspired a no vote on Proposition 200.

Pearce is considered right even among Mesa Mormon right-wingers. In last year's Legislature, he was a leader of a staunch conservative bloc always at odds with the governor and moderates in both the Republican and Democratic parties.

But Pearce has his supporters. And, like his old employer, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, he is a master of the language of the tough-on-crime Everyman Populist, a political stance that has expanded his influence in the sprawling retirement communities in and around the Valley.

Proposition 200 was the perfect fit for Arpaio's former chief deputy. The issue rolls seamlessly into Pearce's hard-line ideas about crime and punishment. "Securing our borders," as he and others like to say, is a big part of that. The idea that terrorists could be crossing in the mix adds even more traction to his campaign.

Indeed, his moral political minority may no longer be a minority by next year.

"I've been out speaking with people, and I continue to hear the same thing," Pearce says to New Times. "Our country is being destroyed. And we're sick of politicians standing around watching it happen. It's time to do something. And that's what we're doing."

Yes, he's doing something. Even he admits he's not sure what effect his ideas would have. He knows he doesn't have a solution to illegal immigration. Never said he did. Prop 200 was more of a message.

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