Grandstanding on Immigration

The immigration debate that stymied George W. Bush, nearly wrecked John McCain’s presidential aspirations, and engenders grand hypocrisy on the Left (it was, after all, Senator Barack Obama who backed a number of poison-pen amendments that helped sink the 2008 bill) is back with a bang. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a new immigration bill. (Yes, she’s a governor and what’s she doing making immigration law, you ask? More later on this.) And it is like 2007 all over again:

Even before she signed the bill at an afternoon news conference here, President Obama strongly criticized it.

The Arizona law, he added, threatened “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

The law, which proponents and critics alike said was the broadest and strictest immigration measure in generations, would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Opponents have called it an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status.

Let’s begin with the constitutional problem. This state law seeking to regulate what is plainly within the federal government’s purview is almost certainly not going to pass constitutional muster. And for those who say, ah well, the courts will sort it out, conservatives should be the first to holler, “Wait a minute!” Every elected official has an obligation to uphold the Constitution. They didn’t much appreciate it when George W. Bush said that the courts would eventually sort out McCain-Feingold (they finally did). It’s not up to states to start requiring immigration documents and the Arizona governor should know better. But the temptation to meddle and to grandstand in this area is irresistible. (Recall how much time in the 2008 election was spent fighting about the immigration policies of the former New York City mayor and the former Massachusetts governor.)

Next on the annoying grandstanders’ list is the current president, who did his best to grind immigration reform to a halt in 2007, and is — after all — now the chief executive in charge of, among other things, border control. So if he had been a more conscientious senator in the past and a more adept executive today, governors might not be at wits’ end trying to handle the financial and social burdens of illegal immigration. If he doesn’t like states meddling in immigration law, he should propose his own legislation.

And finally, the third place on the grandstanders’ list goes to the Democratic leadership in Congress, which no doubt wants to bring up immigration reform now to both tie the Republicans up in knots and mollify pro-immigration activists who’ve noticed that the Democrats have done nothing on this issue for a year and a half. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have no intention of actually passing a bill (Big Labor, of course, would freak if they did); it’s simply another political Hail Mary to try to minimize the electoral wipe-out heading their way. Nothing like baiting anti-immigration activists into saying outlandish things to get the Hispanic vote energized, right?

At some point there will be some mix of Democrats and Republicans who want to take a serious stab at immigration reform. But we’re eons away from that point. But that won’t stop the Arizona governor, the president, and the Congressional Democrats from trying to get the most mileage out of the issue — while decrying everyone else who’s doing exactly the same thing.