Pete, I agree that much of the rhetoric coming from critics of the Arizona immigration law is overblown and unhelpful to their cause. But I think there are serious infirmities with the law and reasons for conservatives to oppose it. Your misgivings are well-founded, and I’d add a couple additional thoughts.
For starters, the Arizona statute is almost certainly preempted by federal immigration law and, therefore, unconstitutional. As a general matter, and especially under an administration that is often indifferent to the rule of law, conservatives — whatever they think of the merits of a certain policy — should be wary of measures that run afoul of constitutional standards. I appreciate the frustration felt by citizens and state officials burdened with an unsecured border, but the solution is not for 50 states to devise 50 versions of immigration law.
Moreover, in practice, the enforcement will almost certainly single out one group of people — Hispanics. A Hispanic man standing on a street corner looking for day-labor work who looks nervous when a police car pulls up will be a potential target for a “reasonable suspicion” stop. Caucasians won’t be. That’s implicitly acknowledged by the bill, which permits race to be a factor in a reasonable suspicion stop to the extent permitted by law. (Good luck to the Arizona cops who have to puzzle that one through.) It’s not a hard standard to meet, and the overwhelming number of stops will be of Hispanics, some (many?) of whom are not illegal aliens. The notion that a particular ethnic group will be disproportionately impacted — perhaps exclusively impacted — should concern us.
Some conservatives are not at all bothered by this because, as they point out, most illegal aliens in Arizona are Hispanic. But a high percentage is not, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Hispanics are now going to face police scrutiny because of their ethnicity. Well, isn’t this like racial profiling for terrorists? No. The risk here is not that an airplane will be blown from the sky (a legitimate reason, in my mind, to engage in some racial profiling when it comes to Islamic terrorism) but that some illegal aliens who won’t be detected by federal immigration authorities will remain in the U.S. for some additional period of time. From my perspective, that’s not a good enough reason to turn Arizona cops into immigration-enforcement agents. And frankly, it deflects attention from the federal government’s deficient immigration enforcement.
Do I favor border enforcement first, some method for addressing the status of millions of those already here, and a liberal legal immigration policy? Yes. But this sure isn’t the way to get there.