FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Arizona, Washington, and the Failure of Comprehensive Legislation
There’s been an enormous amount of heat and not much light on the new Arizona immigration law. I lose track from time to time of which state the Left is hating at the moment – I believe in the past year or so we’ve been through at least Massachusetts, Louisiana, Texas, Alaska, Virginia and Arizona, but I could be missing a few – but the mostly emotional response from people who have no idea how the bill actually works has consisted in large part of Democrats and media liberals taking a break from lecturing us about calling people Nazis to go back to their traditional practice of calling people Nazis themselves. Despite this, or perhaps as the cause of it, polls have shown fairly strong support for the bill; Gallup shows a 51-39 lead for the bill nationally among people who have heard of it, Rasmussen shows 60% support nationally for the bill’s provisions and 70% support in Arizona, as well as surging approval ratings for Gov. Jan Brewer. It’s harder to get a fix on the reaction from Latinos; a Rasmussen poll seems to suggest a majority of Arizona Latinos also approve, while Markos Moulitsas is pushing PPP polling data suggesting a dropoff in support for Brewer among Latino voters.
In terms of the bill’s actual effects, Andrew McCarthy and Byron York shed some useful light on the real workings of the legislation, and I recommend you read both. There’s a lot more care that went into drawing this legislation up in response to public outcry in the state than the news reports might suggest.
I won’t rehash here the full scope ofall my views on immigration (I wrote here and here about the pros and cons of the McCain-Kennedy bill), save to say that I think I’m basically a moderate on the issue, and largely where Jonah Goldberg is. Like a lot of people on the Right, I’m comfortable with the basic idea that police who (1) have already stopped someone for other lawful reasons or (2) have very good reasons for suspecting that someone is an illegal immigrant should be able to check their citizenship status but do have some concerns that the law could end up leading to too many stops intended to check citizenship status without a particularly good reason. Matt Welch reasonably notes the plethora of justifications police already have for stopping a car, for example. McCarthy and York make clear that the law is carefully written to reduce that problem, but it’s a balancing act, and how the courts read the law’s definition of lawful contact will go a long way to working out whether the law makes things worse.
Overheated rhetoric aside, federal law already requires lawful permanent residents to carry ID, and the Democrats’ own legislation would create a national ID card for employment purposes, so we’re hardly dealing with a radical step here; what’s different in Arizona is mainly that the state is creating a mechanism to enforce laws that are already on the books. As it is, our immigration system is kind of a worst-of-all-worlds system, with largely draconian laws that are only sporadically enforced, and a Byzantine bureaucracy that discourages legal immigration while looking the other way at illegal immigration. Meanwhile, the Border Patrol suffers three assaults on an officer per day, among other problems created by the inability to control points of entry, while companies looking to hire legal immigrants face long waits for visas. As Marco Rubio – who is also sympathetic to the Arizona law’s goals but uneasy about how it will play out in practice – notes, we have come to the pass of states trying to enforce the law because the federal government has failed to handle any aspect of the problem correctly.
And the Democrats huffing and puffing about the Arizona bill are really not serious about immigration reform themselves. There’s little sign that comprehensive legislation could pass Congress today, and even left-wing sites acknowledge that the Democrats’ motives for bringing comprehensive bills back up now are more or less nakedly political. Kos is trying to play racial wedge politics on the issue in the hopes that Latino voters in Arizona will hold a grudge over this bill, while white voters in Arizona won’t hold a grudge against its critics. As for the President, Obama himself cast the deciding vote on a ‘poison pill’ amendment to McCain-Kennedy in 2007. And the hypocrisy doesn’t end there, as Mexican leadership brays about the law while Mexico’s own immigration laws are far more draconian and even explicitly permit the government to deny immigration if it would upset the racial/demographic balance of the nation.
The McCain-Kennedy bill was not, in fact, a good bill, but the Democrats aren’t proposing to fix any of its problems. What they should do, if they were really serious about fixing the system, is do what Bush should have done, and what Rubio is currently pushing – drop the whole business of trying to do yet another “comprehensive” thousand-page nobody-read-the-whole-thing bill, pass piecemeal (likely with strong bipartisan support) the various parts of McCain-Kennedy that had broad support – more border and employer enforcement, more visas, guest worker programs – and then if the Democrats want to, they can campaign on the narrow pieces that remain sticking points, most notably the “path to legalization”/”amnesty” parts of the bill. That is how a party serious about immigration would run things. The GOP failed that test in 2007, and Obama – imitating Bush’s and McCain’s mistakes – seems bent on failing it as well.