Commentary Magazine


RE: What Would Reagan Have Thought?

Jennifer Rubin draws attention to the elephant in the room — that is, the GOP’s unfortunate posturing toward immigration, of which John McCain has lately become the embodiment.

It should be of some consolation that before he could find someone to cast in the nativist role he sought, McCain had to do quite a bit of fruitless searching and, in the end, resort to “synthesizing” his ad from the scenery of a border town and the commentary of a sheriff from a different county. Indeed, the sheriff who enthusiastically confirms McCain’s bona fides as “one of us” — whatever that means — hails from Pinal county, not even on the border, while the ad is shot in Nogales, a border town in the county of Santa Cruz, whose sheriff, Antonio Estrada, has blasted the Arizona immigration bill in no uncertain terms:

“Local law enforcement has a great relationship with the Hispanic community, and something like this is really going to scare these people,” said [Sheriff] Estrada. “They’re going to look at us as immigration officers every time they see us.”

Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Pima — another county in Southern Arizona, which shares with Mexico the longest border in the state — has called the bill “disgusting,” “racist,” and “unnecessary.”

The ad merely reveals McCain to be a politician, evidently less principled than his supporters took him for in 2008. His presidential ambitions now thwarted, in order to at least not lose his Senate seat, he has gone to great lengths — as far as to endorse the anti-immigration bill of Arizona after having supported the pro-immigration bill of President Bush. But no matter that a politician should flip-flop. Most troubling is the fact that McCain judged this ad expedient because it can find a sympathetic audience among the GOP base.

Incendiary as some of them might be, it is hard to dismiss the complaints against the Arizona immigration bill, for it

makes it a state misdemeanor crime for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying registration documents required by federal law, and obligates police to make an attempt, when practicable during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest made by a law enforcement official,” to determine a person’s immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal alien. Police may arrest a person if there is probable cause that the person is an alien not in possession of required registration documents.

Therefore, the law relies for its execution on the discretion of law-enforcement agents, known to misfire even before the bill invested in them so much authority. Take, for example, the detention of a U.S. citizen of Hispanic descent in Phoenix a few months back:

Abdon was told he did not have enough paperwork on him when he pulled into a weigh station to have his commercial truck checked. He provided his commercial driver’s license and a social security number but ended up handcuffed.

An agent called his wife and she had to leave work to drive home and grab other documents like his birth certificate. …

Both were born in the United States and say they are now both infuriated that keeping important documents safely at home is no longer an option.

Jackie says, “It doesn’t feel like it’s a good way of life, to live with fear, even though we are okay, we are legal … still have to carry documents around.”

Disgraceful incidents such as this cannot but multiply now in Arizona. And it would be sad to see the fetish for birth certificates spread from the small lunatic band of “birthers,” who refuse to believe that President Obama is a natural-born U.S. citizen, into the broader base of the GOP, which seems to support the Arizona bill.

As a legal alien, I would shudder if such a bill as this came to pass in New York, where I live — though, on second thought, I’d have little to fear, since I am and look European. Indeed, does anyone think that racial profiling will not guide the application of this law? On what other grounds can one be reasonably suspected of being an illegal alien? It is easy for those Arizonans who can boast a porcelain complexion and a flawless accent to support the bill, for by virtue of such qualifications alone they will never be subjected to any inconvenience from it. Of course, it would be another thing entirely if the bill required that at a lawful stop, detention, or arrest anyone must be extensively probed for documentation. In that case, I’d love to hear the opinion of those who now support the bill and scoff indignantly at the charges of discrimination leveled against it.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Independently, even, of this disastrous bill, the GOP’s position on immigration needs serious rethinking. At its heart lies the nativist meme Jen mentioned, that of foreigners stealing American jobs — perhaps the only talking point many on the right share with the unionists on the left. Not only is it distasteful and wrongheaded, not only does it repulse immigrants, legal ones too, but it also undermines the right’s reputation for economic literacy. True, an immigrant gainfully employed takes a job. But he or she also patronizes other businesses while living in the country, thus creating other jobs — for Americans. A bigger population means greater economic activity and more jobs. Indeed, blaming immigrants for putting Americans out of work is as sound as blaming the young, in a population reproducing above replacement rate, of stealing their elders’ jobs. Ironically, the nativists who complain thus about immigrants are often the very same ones (think John Derbyshire, think Peter Brimelow) who, in so many words, lament the impending collapse of Western Civilization due to the white man’s failure to breed as diligently as they think he should.

Republicans had better not concede their position on immigration to the few Buchananite elements in their midst.

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