Despite the amount of inadvertent entertainment value he provides for this site, I haven’t been very familiar with the work of Ted Van Dyk. But in looking around at various items related to the new law in Arizona, I came across his column from yesterday in Crosscut.
In providing some context for why the law has enjoyed widespread popularity, Van Dyk writes:
The middle-sized central Arizona city, where I spend time, until recently was best known for its small colleges, farming, and ranching. It is a conservative place but populated as well by California and Midwest retirees drawn to the city’s natural setting and authentic old neighborhoods with Victorian homes. In recent years, however, it has been flooded by inflows of illegal Latinos far different from the family- and church-oriented, hard working Latinos familiar to Arizonans over many decades. Violent crime, drug production and trafficking, burglaries, and road accidents have skyrocketed. Burdens (and costs) also have mushroomed for local law enforcement, social service, and education agencies. Citizens no longer take casual night strolls they once did.
The home I share there with my life partner has been shaken twice in recent months by automobiles careening at high speed into its yard, both times driven by illegals high on drugs (who both fled the scene on foot, to be apprehended later). The drivers had no insurance and promptly disappeared, making restitution for property damage impossible.
Down the street, in this traditional neighborhood, a family residence became a notorious drug-distribution point, with autos driving through to make pickups, night and day. Couriers on bikes (Latinos, as it happens) made drug deliveries throughout the city. Law enforcement recently was able to stop the operation, after several years. But it was only one of many in the city.
The deterioration of Phoenix is not merely anecdotal. The amount of drug cartel activity and kidnappings has gone way up in recent years. But as Dave Neiwert points out here, this is a drug prohibition problem, not an illegal immigration problem. Going after illegal immigrants will do absolutely nothing to address what many Arizonans see as the justification for their new law.
The escalation in the violence has been a result of a number of factors. As I’ve written about previously, the strength of Mexico’s drug cartels was a result of our relative success in cracking down on Colombian cartels. In addition, the border crackdowns since 9/11 have forced those cartels to move more of their operations into the United States, especially by growing marijuana in public lands within America instead of trying to smuggle it across the border. Third, the nationwide efforts to restrict sales of over-the-counter cold medicines – making it much harder to cook up large quantities of methamphetamines – has shifted that trade from being small and local to being a more high-scale operation that makes its way from Mexico through the southwest.
All of these things have made Phoenix, which sits in an ideal location near the Mexican border, a major transit and operation point for Mexican-based drug distribution networks. This is wholly separate from the reality of the vast majority of illegal laborers within the United States, most of whom are still the “church-oriented, hardworking Latinos” that Van Dyk fondly remembers. He probably doesn’t see that so much now that the growing anti-immigration paranoia has painted targets on their backs.
Not surprisingly, none of this history shows up in Van Dyk’s column, despite the fact that it’s the reason for why there’s now so much crime there. Instead, what’s left unchallenged is the incorrect assumption that all of these bad things are simply the result of people coming here illegally to work. In reality, the cause and effect is reversed. Drug prohibition and the empowering of the cartels over the past 20 years is what has created the need for so many people in Mexico to seek low-wage employment in the United States. And now that the violence and economic devastation is starting to follow them across the border, we’re blaming them and continuing to ignore the real villain.
I don’t think I need to add anything to Jon’s sentiments from earlier this week. There’s little to no distinction between the actions of those behind the Arizona law and the kinds of things that real fascists were doing in the beginning of their rises to power. And the attempts to misdirect blame for the failures of drug prohibition onto some of the individuals who’ve been most negatively affected by it is appalling.
Of course, this isn’t a criticism of Ted Van Dyk. In his column, he recognizes the potential grave injustices that this law tries to normalize. But there’s a separate criticism that needs to be made. And it’s to all of those in the media who continue to discuss the topic of illegal immigration without even mentioning the central role that drug prohibition plays in it. Without that context, we will continue to remain angry at the wrong people and will continue to steer ourselves towards that more dangerous world where large classes of our fellow citizens lose the presumption of innocence that should be a right to us all.