The Kidnapping Capital

Cross-posted from the other site.

The Village Voice has an enragifying article on kidnapping in Phoenix. You really should read the whole thing.

Phoenix is labeled the kidnapping capital of the United States because of people- and drug-smuggling out of Mexico. It’s a catchphrase that politicians like U.S. Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona use to alarm voters into buying the get-tough-on-illegals policies they’re selling. But it’s the smuggled immigrants—not the general public—who overwhelmingly are the primary victims.

In 2008, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available, there were 368 reported kidnappings in Phoenix, up from 160 in 1999. Almost all of the abductions were inside the smuggling world. In 2008, IIMPACT detectives worked 63 kidnapping cases, investigated 49 drop houses, and arrested 129 human smugglers.

What happens in these cases if horrifying. If people choose the wrong “coyotes” to smuggle them into this country, the can be killed, raped, tortured and/or held for ransom:

They’re known to beat and torture victims while family members listen on the telephone. The torment continues for as long as it takes to get the money, until hostages die from their injuries, or—in the rare instance—until the police burst in and free them.

Kidnappers kick and punch hostages, beat them with baseball bats, submerge them in bathtubs and electrically shock them, burn their flesh with blowtorches, smash their fingers with bricks, slice their bodies with butcher knives, shoot them in their arms and legs, and cut open their backs with wire-cutters. The kidnappers usually video-tape the sexual humiliation and violence and send the images to family members if ransoms aren’t paid.

The authorities are doing their best to crack down on it, but they are fighting a losing battle against the tide of illegal immigrants. And laws like Arizona’s 1070 are making the problem worse by diverting resources and keeping illegals from going to the police for fear of deportation:

Besides, law enforcement authorities, including Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris, think 1070 will make it even harder for cops to do their jobs. Already, the victims of smugglers are reluctant to report crimes to police. If all of 1070 goes into effect, even more violent crime will operate under the radar of law enforcement.

The Pearce-inspired statute, many cops say, will only make departments, particularly Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s, go after law-abiding illegal aliens (maids, gardeners, tree trimmers, restaurant workers) all the more, leaving violent smugglers to carry on as usual.

Of course, the thing that has driven illegals into the arms of the coyotes is the lack of an easy legal way to get into this country for temporary or seasonal work. Faced with violence and poverty in Mexico, they do what any human being in his right mind would do — try to go somewhere better. But going somewhere better in a legal way involves massive paperwork, oceans of time and big piles of money — all to be most likely denied in the end.

U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, the federal agency that processes U.S. permanent residency applications, is just now working on applications filed in 1994 by Mexican nationals seeking visas or green cards. These people who followed the rules have already waited 16 years.

Federal law allows 26,260 people from Mexico to receive visas each year. There are more than 1.1 million Mexicans on a waiting list.

What would you do in their situation? If you could not find work and you had a family to feed? What would you do?

Stories like this are one of the biggest reasons I am strongly in favor of immigration reform. Not amnesty — people who broke the law should not be the first to get legal status — but a massive overhaul of the system. The cornerstone of this has to be a program to make it easy for people to come into this country for temporary or seasonal work (a guest worker program by any other name). My justification of this is below the fold.

When it comes to immigration, most people’s priority is to “seal the border”. Whether this is wise or not, I’m dubious that it’s even possible. Penn and Teller demonstrated that it takes minutes for illegals to tunnel under, cut through or climb over a border fence. We have a very very long border with Mexico and our attempts to seal the border are always and must be reactive — responding to new ways people find to get in after they’re already here.

And, as this article demonstrates, I don’t think sealing the border is a wise policy. So far, our attempts have not decreased the flow of immigrants at all while spawning this kind of violence in our cities. Our attempts to seal the border in the 90’s led directly to the coyote situation — we forced people to immigrate through the Sonora desert, thinking it would dissuade them. It didn’t; it simply pushed them into the arms of smugglers. I’m reminded forcibly of the War on Drugs. Criminalization breeds violence; violence is used to justify “getting tough”; getting tough spawns more violence; lather rinse repeat.

No, the first step in fixing our immigration problem has to be the creation of a guest worker program — a way for people to easily, cheaply and legally come into this country for temporary or seasonal work. Such a system would work the problem, producing gigantic immediate benefits:

1) It would stem the flow of illegals across our border by shunting the otherwise law-abiding into the guest worker system. This would make it much easier to seal the borders. Think of it as diverting the river before you damn it.

2) It would shift millions of immigrants from violent coyotes to safe border guards and immigration officials, depriving drug gangs and other thugs of money, victims and smugglers.

3) It would make it easier for people to leave their families in Mexico, since they know they will be going back. This would alleviate the mythical “anchor baby” problem while giving Mexicans an incentive to improve their own country.

4) It could raise revenue. If people are willing to pay coyotes $1700 to smuggle them into this country, will they not be willing to pay $1000 to come in legally? Or $500? We could be talking about a few billion in revenue, enough to help fund the border patrol and pay for the necessary bureaucracy.

5) Call it the Law of iTunes: when you make it relatively easy to obey the law, people will obey it rather than break it. When businesses can hire immigrants above board, when immigrants can work without fear, that creates a massive incentive to obey the law. Illegal immigration will never completely vanish. But this would reduce it dramatically and allow us to concentrate our efforts on people we really really don’t want in this country — like violent psychotic criminals.

6) Part (5) will have the side effect of sending illegals currently in this country back to Mexico. Once there is an easy legal way to hire immigrants for temporary work, the labor market for illegals will dry up. Without work, many will head back to Mexico to get in line.

7) With workers properly documented, this will make it much harder for them to vote in our elections or collect social benefits.

This will never happen in our political system. The Democrats are too busy pandering to the Latino vote and too stupid to explain why this would benefit all Latins in the long run. They also, I think, are nervous about losing illegal votes. Republicans will never support it because it’s not thuggish enough. They’ve invested too much rhetoric into “get tough” policies to back down and too interested in screaming “amnesty!” anytime reform is proposed.

Consider the furor caused recently when a Republican senator released a White House internal memo outlining some administrative actions available to the president to address immigration issues now, instead of waiting for comprehensive reform to make it through Congress.

It had conservative groups and politicos up in arms, claiming President Barack Obama is attempting to grant amnesty to every illegal immigrant in the country. In reality, the suggestions in the memo ran along the lines of possibly allowing immigrants to attain legal status if their spouse, parents, or children are U.S. citizens serving in the military.

George W. Bush, to his lasting credit, never played that game and was a big advocate of a guest worker problem. It was also one of the few issues his party rebelled over.

But … I think it will happen one day. The one thing I’ve learned about politics is that Winston Churchill was right. The quote is of dubious origin, but he supposedly said that American would always do the right thing after exhausting all other possibilities. Eventually, we will have a guest worker program. When we simply have no other choice. I’m guessing the driving factor will be the enormous cost of maintaining our current immigration regime in the face of catastrophic debt.

Until then, we can expect more horror stories to emerge from the border. And more calls to get tough.