As I noted, the Arizona immigration bill is what comes from the confluence of federal inaction and election-year jockeying on both sides of the political aisle. Neither pro-immigration nor anti-immigration forces have the wherewithal to push through legislation, so the next best thing is to try to tempt the other side into embarrassing themselves. That’s not hard in this arena. As the Wall Street Journal‘s editors write:
Arizona’s new immigration law shows what happens when a state on the front lines of a failed immigration policy reaches the bursting point. What you get is a blunt instrument that produces lawsuits, more political polarization (if that’s possible) and the risk of hostility between the local police and the public.
The law makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. without proper documents. It allows the police to stop anyone on “reasonable suspicion” that they may be in the country unlawfully and arrest them on the spot if they can’t produce identity papers. The police aren’t required to have a search warrant or even to suspect some illegal action has occurred before questioning a person. Traditionally the federal government has enforced immigration laws, so this is an extraordinary state criminalization of a heretofore federal authority.
Democrats see an opportunity born of their own delinquency in addressing immigration. (“Congressional Democrats have no intention of enacting serious immigration reform before November. President Obama is surely playing politics with the situation in Arizona for gain in the fall. He’d like to pick a fight and define Republicans as anti-Hispanic going into the election, without having to propose anything substantive.”) So they decry the motives of their opponents and take offense at the notion that law enforcement should enforce immigration laws. Meanwhile, a segment of conservatives thinks this plays well to the base and that liberals’ overheated rhetoric makes them appear “pro-illegal immigration.” But the result is a crass political food fight in which each side’s normal concerns are swept aside. (Are conservatives really in favor of what will amount to near-unbridled discretion by police to stop suspected illegals?)
Those hoping for any semblance of real reform should take note: the alliance of those who oppose any “path to citizenship” and the relaxation of legal immigration restrictions is a classic political marriage of convenience, with Big Labor and immigration restrictionists joined at the hip to block virtually any variation of reform that might conceivably pass. And the most extreme pro-immigration forces don’t do their cause any favors by suggesting that legitimate concerns for border control are nothing more than a cover for racism. So expect the political charade to go on.