Thursday, July 08, 2010
The Obama administration is challenging Arizona's tough new immigration law, and that's too bad. It's not that the Arizona law is good policy, because it isn't. And it's not that President Obama doesn't have a better idea on immigration reform, because he does. Democrats should know that they play with fire by going after a law that reflects the public's utter frustration with illegal immigration.
You can see the calculations flashing in the party advisers' heads: The Arizona law lets local police demand the immigration papers of peoplestopped for some alleged infraction. Hispanics see this as opening the door to racial profiling, and rightfully so. One can easily imagine overzealous law officers demanding the documents from any brown-skinned pedestrian caught jaywalking -- or whom they say was jaywalking.
The Latino giant has long been poised to make a grand entrance into American elections, especially in the Southwest. What better way to get out this vote than by accusing Republicans of animosity toward Latinos?
The Arizona law has already done some energizing. Polls on the Texas governor's race, for example, show Republican Gov. Rick Perry's former 8-point lead over Democrat Bill White shrinking to a tie. Shifting sentiment among Hispanics seems to be the cause. Give this trend a bigger kick by suing Arizona, the advisers may say.
But this began before the suit against Arizona, making the strategy unnecessary as well as potentially dangerous. Democrats seem to think that Latino voters will thank them for going to the mat against Arizona and that other voters won't notice. But pitting one group of voters against others along racial lines is unattractive -- and could spark a white backlash.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat running for governor, does not find this action politically helpful. "I've urged the administration and the Justice Department to focus on immigration reform and not on suing," he said.
A fine suggestion. Obama supports the excellent bipartisan plan put together by New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer and South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. It combines a path to citizenship with a secure form of biometric identification, which would make it impossible for illegal aliens (and employers who want their cheap labor) to play games with counterfeit documents.
Add to that an administration willing to prosecute employers who break the law, and the illegal immigration problem is basically solved. After eight years of passivity under George W. Bush, America has a president actively going after employers of illegal workers. Obama's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is even fining restaurants. But Democrats won't get credit for this progress if they turn the spotlight on their opposition to Arizona's law.
Serious federal enforcement is also a key step toward the comprehensive reform that Democrats and many Republicans say they want. It builds public confidence that the reform won't amount to another amnesty for illegal immigrants and then business as usual.
The politics of reforming immigration are not really complicated. National polls consistently show a large majority against illegal immigration. But they also have most Americans backing one last amnesty. That's the Schumer-Graham plan.
And what about polls indicating considerable support for the Arizona law, which does enforcement only?
These polls are not really contradictory because they don't offer a choice between the Arizona and the Schumer-Graham approaches. Many respondents may not care much for the details in the Arizona law, but after decades of seemingly open borders, they may feel it's the only law they have.
It's up to the Obama administration to change that impression. The president can do that by leaving Arizona alone and promoting an effective and humane immigration policy going forward.
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