The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together and no constable to keep them. ~ Emerson

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Melting Pots and Crucibles

The New Arizona Immigration Law Was Ill-Forged and Needs Blunting

The United States of America is the Great Melting Pot of the world, as the old saw runs. A melting pot implies heat and anybody who has ever visited the Sonoran Desert knows it does not get much hotter than in southern Arizona. In spite of this, state officials found a way to raise the temperature there further by passing an extremely tough new immigration law last Friday.

The mainstream media has functioned as the chief thermometer. Linda Greenhouse, the Supreme Court/legal analyst for the New York Times, declares the law created a new crime of “breathing while undocumented” and transformed Arizona into a “police state.” Richard Cohen at the Washington Post characterized it as “bizarre, fueled by anger and a dash of bigotry.” His cohort Eugene Robinson unleashed a barrage of unflattering descriptors – “racist, arbitrary, oppressive, mean-spirited, unjust . . . an abomination.”

The law, which takes effect in late July or early August, makes it a crime to be in the U.S. illegally. It mandates state and local police to question people about their immigration status if there is any reason to suspect they are illegal. Arizona authorities can arrest immigrants unable to produce documents, jail them for up to six months, fine them $2,500, and then turn them over to federal authorities for deportation.

The vote on the new law strictly followed Party lines – all but one Republican Arizona legislator voted for it and every Democrat voted against it. Critics say it will inevitably lead to racial profiling against Hispanics, since almost all of the nearly half million illegal immigrants in Arizona are Mexican.

Those opposing the law include the American Civil Liberties Union, Democratic Represenative Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the nation’s largest Spanish-language newspaper La OpiniĆ³n, the city of San Francisco and other California officials, and the Reverend Al Sharpton, all of whom call for non-cooperation and a boycott of Arizona tourism/goods in response.

Democratic Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon branded the law “bitter, small-minded and full of hate.” Mexican President Felipe Calderon called it discriminatory and warned it would seriously strain trade between Arizona and his country. President Obama deemed the law “misguided” and worried it could “undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans” and lead to “irresponsibility by others.”

The law’s chief supporters include Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Many view Arpaio’s tough immigration enforcement policies as a model for the law’s directives.

Most Arizona police departments officially oppose the law, saying it will deter them from other important work, reduce cooperation from Hispanics in solving crimes, and generally heighten tensions between police and the Mexican community. The law requires them to prosecute illegal immigrants with the same zeal and meticulousness as Arpaio or face civil lawsuits.

Then there are the citizens of Arizona, who multiple polls indicate favor the new law by a hefty sixty-five to seventy percent.

Their concern is understandable and driven by a combination of reasonable caution and reactive fear. Arizona has a huge Mexican population and its southern border has become a national gateway for both people and drugs to enter this country illegally. Local sentiments rose to a boiling point when illegal border crosser(s), possibly drug smugglers, shot rancher Rob Krentz on his property near the Mexican border this past March.

Many of the law’s supporters claim that, as much as anything else, it is a message to Washington concerning the Southwest’s desperation over lack of federal immigration reform. “We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act,” said Governor Brewer. “But decades of federal inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation.”

“The loud voices denouncing ‘Arizona’ should understand that the results of the nation's failed immigration policies have come down on this state,” agreed an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Federal reform would be just fine with those opposing the law too. They assume that Obama and a Democratic-controlled Congress will produce far less draconian legislation. However, Howard Fineman of Newsweek reports Democratic Congressional leaders have told him that there is no chance the Senate will tackle immigration before the November mid-term elections and possibly not after, despite urging from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. For its part, the House will not act until the Senate does.

This means if Obama wishes to go beyond rhetoric, his most likely action will be a federal lawsuit. To that end, he has already instructed the Justice Department to complete a review of the law's implications. Lawsuits by various other individuals and organizations are virtually inevitable.

Their potential success is a matter of debate among legal scholars. Kevin Johnson, Dean of the University of California-Davis Law School, believes Arizona and other states cannot grant local law enforcement the power to enforce immigration laws, maintaining the federal government alone has this authority. Johnson also feels litigants could point to violations of their Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, given the broad authority granted to police in determining whom to question.

In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1975 Texas state law denying access to public schools for the children of undocumented immigrants. The Court ruled such a law would impose “a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable for their disabling status” and “threatens the creation of an underclass of future citizens and residents.”

On the other hand, a narrow five to four vote decided the Texas case at a time when the Court was far less conservative than it is today. Moreover, Gerald Neuman, a Harvard Law School professor, asserts Arizona could make a compelling legal argument that it has overlapping authority to protect its residents.

Apply enough heat and pressure to a melting pot and it becomes a crucible of democracy. This is what is happening in Arizona today. At its best, this nation has used the molten product of such crucibles to make new links for the chains that bind us together as One, making them stronger and longer lasting.

Alas, while its motives may be well-meaning it seems much more likely the new Arizona immigration law is forging a sword instead; one that only serves to drive apart honest, legitimate, cooperative people with every thrust used to combat genuinely illegal activities. Equally sad, Congress is either unable or unwilling to step up to its rightful role in this matter. Obama must now bring down the hammer of federal authority, not to create something admirable and lasting but rather to destroy or at least blunt the edge of a weapon too dangerous to allow one state to wield.


run75441 said...

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You are going to Angry Bear with this post. :) Its good. I always remember yout post on Terberthia and the crossing across the ravine for someone else.

Anonymous said...

hi have a nice xmas to you all - matty