Remember those old, black-and-white films of foreign intrigue where the sinister police chief strides up to a table in a smoky bar and demands of one of the patrons, “Papers, please?” The police chief then silently studies the proffered documents, looking for irregularities or a pretext upon which to seize the bearer.
For an excruciating moment, questions hang in the air: Will he accept the papers? Will the bearer be arrested?
The terror of being at the mercy of the inquisitor is palpable.
Fortunately, we think to ourselves, that can’t happen here. Not today. Not in these United States.
Well, that would be true – unless you happen to be in Arizona.
The state of Arizona last week blazed a new path in our nation’s immigration debate, making the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and giving state police the ability to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
In fact, the law requires police officers “whenever practicable” to detain persons whom they “reasonably” suspect are in the country without proper authorization, pending verification with federal officials.
Fortunately, Arizona’s governor assures us that the police will be properly trained, and that racial profiling will not be tolerated.
Good luck with that.
How does a police officer determine when it is reasonable to suspect that a driver pulled over for a traffic violation is in the country without proper authorization? How does a police officer in a state like Arizona, where citizens are hyper-concerned about illegal immigration, avoid arresting a citizen for the pseudo-crime of “driving while Hispanic?”
No, quite apart from the inquisitorial, Big Brother aspects of the law, this law will spawn a multitude of lawsuits filed by citizens who will unnecessarily and unjustly endure wrongful arrest, detention and needless humiliation.
Fortunately, here in Maine we aren’t so obsessed with control over our borders to the extent that we feel the need to supplant federal immigration authority with our own.
We find other ham-handed ways to express our concerns.
In the most recent session, the Legislature enacted and the governor signed LD 1545, “An Act to Protect Maine Workers,” which originally required certain employers, “before employing or referring a person for employment, (to make) a good faith inquiry as to whether that person was a United States citizen or an alien, and if the inquiry reasonably indicated that the person was an alien, (that) the employer (make) a further good faith inquiry … that reasonably indicated that the alien was lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence.”
Recognizing that the language of the law was stunningly broad, lawmakers quickly amended the law to get at its real concern, i.e., Canadian workers taking Maine logging jobs.
Thus, the new law protects Maine jobs by rendering it highly cumbersome for a Maine employer to hire any worker who provides his own equipment (as Canadian loggers typically do), and creates a Maine Department of Labor clearinghouse process through which land owners can identify logging companies that seek to hire foreign, or “bonded” workers.
Now, the Maine law is both more technical and less draconian than the Arizona law, but both laws have in common a legislative intent to protect local jobs by putting up a fence between workers and jobs.
In the case of Arizona, in a sense, the fence is already in place in the form of existing immigration laws. The state has added its own barbed wire and guards.
In the case of Maine, we’ve added processes and requirements that make it more difficult to engage in the entirely legal effort of securing workers for jobs that historically have gone unfilled by Maine workers.
How did we get here?
Two generations ago, New England’s greatest poet Robert Frost put our fear of outsiders in the starkest terms when he wrote, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” and rued the notion that “good fences make good neighbors.”
Today, one of New England’s brightest poet musicians, Anais Mitchell, sings that we build walls:
“Because we have, and they have not …
Because they want what we have got.
What do we have that they should want …?
We have work and they have none …
And our work is never done
That’s why we build the wall.”
Will Arizona’s, or Maine’s, concerns ever be solved simply by building higher fences or stronger walls?
Or are such measures, in Frost’s words, just another outdoor game that will come to little more?