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Immigration: The crackdown in Arizona

Arizona's new immigration bill has caused outrage across the country and may force the federal government to press ahead with comprehensive immigration reform.

For the issue of immigration, Arizona could turn out to be “the Alabama of 1963,” said Robert Creamer in Huffingtonpost.com. A half-century ago, the disturbing images of “fire hoses being turned on children marching for their civil rights” in Birmingham appalled the nation, and marked the beginning of the end of segregation. Last week, Arizona enacted a truly “draconian anti-immigrant bill” that could finally compel Americans to embrace comprehensive immigration reform, with a path to citizenship for millions of illegals. Under Arizona’s new regime, police merely need a “reasonable suspicion” that an individual is in the country illegally to demand to see their papers. And immigrants must carry documentation at all times—subjecting them to the chilling, un-American demand of “papers, please”—or face arrest and criminal charges. Since most undocumented immigrants in Arizona are from Mexico, said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post, all Latinos—including the hundreds of thousands of Mexican-American U.S. citizens in the state—will be under suspicion every time they step out their door. This law is nothing more than “a mandate for racial profiling on a massive scale.”

The real outrage, said Rich Lowry in National Review Online, is that the federal government has utterly failed to secure our borders and enforce immigration laws. That puts the onus on border states like Arizona, which is home to an estimated 460,000 illegal aliens. Taxpayers pay hundreds of millions of dollars to provide public education, hospital care, and other services to illegals, and some of those streaming across the border are criminals. “Arizonans needn’t, and shouldn’t, tolerate this.” It’s hardly a return to Nazi Germany to require that visitors to the U.S. carry documents such as work visas. As for racial profiling, said Byron York in the Washington Examiner, the law authorizes police to check immigration status only if they encounter somebody through a “lawful contact,” like a traffic stop. The law specifically says race and ethnicity cannot be the “sole factors” in determining whether police ask for ID.

As somebody married to a woman of Mexican heritage, I find that of little comfort, said Phoenix businessman Brad Johnson in The Arizona Republic. I now live in a country where my wife, a second-generation American with brown skin, may soon be unable to “walk our dog without her driver’s license.” Because this law clearly cannot be enforced without singling out Hispanics, it will very likely be struck down as unconstitutional, said James Doty in Salon.com. If the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution means anything, it’s that government cannot treat people differently “on the basis of race.” 

While a legal challenge is certain, the political fate of immigration reform is far more murky, said Howard Fineman in Newsweek.com. Looking “to undercut Republicans with Hispanic voters,” President Obama and other Democratic leaders now say they’ll press ahead with comprehensive reform. But don’t hold your breath. Working-class voters tend to see immigrants as competition for scarce jobs, and with midterm elections approaching, dozens of vulnerable House Democrats “would be signing their political death warrant” if they supported amnesty for illegals. Republicans also face peril, said Jonathan Martin in Politico.com. Their base demands tough new controls, but they can’t afford to alienate the 15 percent (and growing) of the American population that’s Hispanic. The immigration system may be broken, but for both parties, immigration reform is simply a “no-win issue.”

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