Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Maybe The President Can Hold An Arizona Ice Tea Summit

Richard Cohen has a measured and somewhat off-beat column on the new Arizona immigration law.  It's balanced for a liberal like Cohen, who gives a little too much leeway to the idiotic claims that Arizona is turning into a Nazi state, but I think he reflects an understanding of the situation that too many people who don't live in Arizona seem to lack...
At the moment, the law amounts to a full-employment program for legal scholars. It is so constitutionally dubious that it may not make it to its own birth, some 90 days hence. Among other things, it encourages racial profiling, absconds with federal prerogatives regarding immigration, and will prove both impractical and onerous to enforce. (What if most Hispanics refuse to carry documents? Will they all be detained -- legal and illegal alike?)

President Obama immediately denounced the law, and Democrats have clamored to curry favor with the Hispanic vote by moving up immigration reform on the congressional agenda. Indeed, the law is so hard to defend that Sen. John McCain, facing a hard-right primary challenge from a supporter of the measure, spoke a few words of praise but nevertheless could not bring himself to cheer the new police powers. On local TV here, he mumbled words of furrowed ambivalence. There was a better way of dealing with the problem, he said.

Indeed there is. But the Obama administration had better pay attention to the conditions that produced this law. In a way, another Tea Party movement has emerged -- a scream of pain and anger from a constituency that has seen immigration laws turn meaningless and the impotence of the government flaunted on a daily basis. These are people who didn't have a particularly high regard for Washington in the first place. This is the Anglos' last stand.
There's a little too much of the idea that bigotry is fueling the new law here for me. Some of the supporters are bigots -- but as Cohen notes, somewhere around 70% of Arizona voters back the new measure. I doubt anywhere close to 70% of the citizens of Arizona qualify as bigots. I think what's driving this is fear, but it's not fear inspired by bigotry. It's fear inspired by rampant crime and a federal government that seems utterly unwilling to do anything to solve the problem.

One of the most unintentionally funny moments of what is a tragic situation occurred the other day when MSNBC ran a headline on-screen that said the new law "Makes it a Crime to be Illegal Immigrant."  There is a legitimate issue on how we should deal with the problem of illegal immigration, but it's hard to deny that it is a criminal act to cross the border without having obtained some form of authorization.  The real issue is how we deal with the criminal act, not whether it is a criminal act.  I don't think Mexican government officials calling Arizonans a bunch of xenophobic racists is going to persuade them to change the law, either.

And at the end of the day, it's the federal government's unwillingness to deal with the problem that's leading to this flashpoint.  Then again, the federal government seems to specialize in not dealing with big problems (entitlements, debt, energy), so perhaps immigration is only the latest symptom of an inefficient system run by a corrupt elite.

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