What's Wrong With Arizona?
A Commentary by Susan Estrich
Over the weekend, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony joined in on the attack against the new law passed by the Arizona legislature to expand police powers to arrest and deport illegal immigrants. The law basically makes it a crime to be an undocumented alien. If that doesn't sound like an inherently controversial proposition, believe me, it will by the time it gets to court.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, is still deciding whether to sign the bill. If it becomes law, it is certain to keep lawyers and judges busy, if no one else.
The obvious danger is that it will be an invitation to racial profiling, to stops based solely on appearance and to punishment for the status of being undocumented rather than for the act of entering the country illegally. Unbridled discretion to stop, detain and punish people for their status is almost the definition of that which due process condemns.
Even so, it seems to me that Mahony's strident criticism is unfair to the angry, frightened and frustrated citizens who live in fear of the violence that illegal immigration is bringing to the border. It only contributes to the very kind of polarization he condemns. Calling the bill "the country's most retrogressive, mean-spirited and useless anti-immigrant law," Mahony wrote on Sunday that the "tragedy of the law is its totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder and consume public resources. That is not only false, the premise is nonsense."
Most immigrants come to this country for the same reasons my grandparents did: in the hopes of finding opportunity and freedom, because they want a better life for themselves and their children and are brave enough and desperate enough to face huge obstacles and great dangers in their quest for that. They do not come to rob, plunder and consume public resources; they come to work and to contribute.
The same, however, is not true of the smugglers, the coyotes who prey upon the desperate and use violence as their way of doing business -- that business being trafficking in people, drugs and weapons, leaving citizens in border towns rightly frightened and desperate.
Bad times produce bad laws. The problem is not the premise of the law, but the desperation that has state officials and decent citizens searching for equally desperate solutions.
Talk to decent people in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, as well as California, where I live, and you don't hear them railing against people consuming public resources. When California Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner recently proposed that undocumented children be kicked out of school, the move was seen by almost everyone -- including his opponent Meg Whitman, who is way ahead of him -- as an act of desperation, proof that his candidacy is floundering. What was once seen as a winning strategy in political terms is now rightly recognized as a loser in both the courts of law and public opinion.
The federal government is supposed to secure the border. Its failure to do so effectively not only invites measures like Arizona's, but complicates -- if not dooms -- the prospect of immigration reform at the national level.
In the final analysis, the greatest threat to the rule of law is the lawlessness that leaves both desperate immigrants and desperate citizens vulnerable and afraid. Rather than condemning each other, we need to find ways to secure the border that are consistent with the values and security we all came to this country hoping to find.
COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM
See Other Political Commentaries
See Other Commentaries by Susan Estrich
Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.
Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.
We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.
Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $4.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.
To learn more about our methodology, click here.