Will Idaho politicos look for instant gratification on immigration?

DALLAS — Politicians, like adolescents, tend to crave instant gratification.

And if the next Idaho Legislature runs an Arizona-style immigration bill, lawmakers might as well call it the Instant Gratification Act of 2011.

The immigration issue allows Idaho lawmakers to flex their states’ rights muscles — even if it is a blatant overextension.

The issue plays to constituents’ fears and economic angst — even though this legislation is unlikely to save lives or preserve jobs for Idahoans. And it provides a distraction from the session’s unpleasant budget decisions, as if the state can afford a sideshow.

Still, the need to be seen as doing something may outweigh all of the short-term pitfalls, and override any stray thought to long-term fallout.

Since there is life after the 2011 legislative session — not to mention after the Nov. 2 elections — let’s consider those lasting implications. Idaho’s Hispanic population is growing rapidly, from 101,690 in the 2000 Census to 147,680 in a 2008 Census estimate. This trend has changed the face of Idaho’s demographics, and will gradually change the face of public policy. It is in the state’s long-term economic interest — and the political parties’ long-term self-interest — to anticipate and embrace this change, and skip the inflammatory flavor-of-the-month politics.

If Idaho politicians are having a hard time envisioning this changing reality, they can simply turn their focus to Texas. They can ask themselves why, in a state that shares 1,254 miles of border with Mexico, neither of the major-party candidates for governor have embraced Arizona’s flawed enforcement model.

Sometimes it is good politics to reject bad policy. So it is in Texas, where Hispanics represent a growing political bloc and economic force. In 2000, Hispanics comprised 32 percent of the state's population. By 2008, that figure had increased to 36.9 percent. This is a young community, relative to an aging Anglo population, and the bulk of the Hispanic community’s population growth stems not from immigration, but from the birth rate, says Steve Murdock, a Rice University professor who was the U.S. Census Bureau's director under President George W. Bush.

This isn’t a one-state phenomenon; in techno-speak, Texas is an early adopter. “The Texas of today is the U.S. of tomorrow,” Murdock said at a National Conference of Editorial Writers convention in Dallas last week.

None of Murdock’s observations about national demographics should surprise anyone who has been paying close attention in Idaho. Growth in the South and the West has outstripped the rest of the nation, in part because of growth in the Hispanic population. It’s simple, says Murdock. If states are not diversifying, they are not growing.

I don’t think stagnation makes much of a business model. Still, communities and elected officials have to make a choice: Do they view a growing Hispanic community as “asset or albatross?”

That question was posed by NCEW conference speaker Julian Castro — the 35-year-old mayor of San Antonio, and a rising star in Latino politics. And in Castro’s case, this is truly a rhetorical question. San Antonio’s constituency is 60 percent Hispanic — and while the national recession has ravaged other Sun Belt cities, San Antonio’s unemployment rate sits at a better-than-national-average 7.5 percent.

The proponents of an immigration crackdown might be quick to accuse Texas politicians of pandering to the state’s large Hispanic voting bloc. Sure, politicians cater to core constituencies (it’s how they get re-elected, after all), but taking a measured, reasoned view of the complexities of immigration policy doesn’t strike me as appeasement.

Instead, I see the potential for something troubling to unfold in Idaho. The Hispanic community doesn’t quite have critical political mass. The state’s economic recovery is, at best, sluggish. And that, I fear, is a recipe for using the legislative process to profile and to scapegoat.

If you somehow think we are too refined and welcoming to reduce ourselves to this level, guess again. Said Murdock, “We’re a country of immigrants but we have never liked immigrants.”

In adverse times — as our country climbs its way out of a recession, and as our immigration issue remains unresolved — the 2011 Legislature will send a powerful message to Hispanics.

Even, or perhaps especially, to those Hispanics who are here legally.

And just as importantly, to Hispanics who might consider moving to Idaho, or doing business here.

Get Twitter updates on my blog and column and Statesman editorials. Become a follower. You can also get updates on Facebook's Idaho Statesman Opinion Page.

how can

Texas share a border with Texas? I think you meant shares 1,254 miles of border with Mexico.

Thank you!

Good catch.

Kevin Richert
editorial page editor

Where is your concern for human mules?

Kevin, aren't you overlooking the legitimate commerce that moves back and forth across the Texas border, compared with the mostly one-way traffic into Arizona created by the drug cartels' dependence on illegal immigrants to transport their products on their backs for hundeds of miles inland across rugged terrain? These two states have very different borders topographically speaking and very different law enforcement problems as a result.

It just so happens that presently there are honest Mexican businessmen seeking to immigrate to Idaho legally because they no longer find their native homeland safe for their families or their businesses. Idaho welcomes legal immigrants and will do what it can to help them become productive citizens of our state, but our policies should not encourage illegal immigrants whose primary contribution to our state will be an increased demand for social services and law enforcement personnel.

Are open borders a recipe for lowering those high school dropout rates you so often fret about? Will they reduce the unemployment rate among 16-24 year olds? Our states and cities have done a p-i-s-s poor job educating and employing young blacks who were born American citizens, so why should we buy ourselves more problems when we haven't done at all well solving a problem that's been with us since slavery was abolished? Illegal immigration is a losing proposition anyway you disect it.

You admire San Antonio, it is interesting to compare.....

crime rates per 100,000 people --
San Antonio Boise
Murder 9.2 3
Robbery 179.6 56
Aggravated Assault 388.7 266.4
Burglary 1132.2 587.8
Auto Theft 512 190
Other Theft 4440.5 2559.9

And Boise's unemployment rate is 9.1 compared to S.A.'s 7.5 -- perhaps high unemployment isn't the major factor in high crime rates.

Having spent a good deal of time in San Antonio, I'll take (and hold onto) Boise.

If their passports are valid that can move there easily.

If that isn't instant it's still immigration.

Remember, when you badger Spain and Mexico out of 50% of the country's coastline, Texas won their own independence and loved us enough to join us and we never had to fight to get 54-40 and Idaho, Washington and Oregon from the British perhaps you will care to save them as well.

You can't ignore the strife over there, It becomes your strife. Telling them where they can and can't go and not caring about anything else (and you say it makes you feel good) is like texting and driving.

You can't win like that. Pitch in or I have no reason to help you. That is fair.

----------

"Say a prayer for the pretender..."-Jackson Browne