Last week, Arizona passed the most aggressive immigration legislation in recent history. The law is so sweeping that staunch conservatives like Karl Rove and Tom Tancredo have come out against it.
Arizona’s new law, signed by the governor on Friday, requires immigrants to carry documentation verifying their immigration status. Police officers will now be required to question a person’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that person may be illegally in the country.
There are two obvious problems here. It is almost certainly unconstitutional to require an American to provide documentation unless there is strong evidence of a crime or driving infraction. Officers can’t just stop people on the street and ask for ID.
And what sort of reasonable suspicion would prompt a police officer to ask for proof of citizenship?
Supporters of the new law argue that a group of men standing on a street corner could be evidence of illegal aliens looking for work. George Will is certain that police officers will abuse their new powers by stopping Arizona residents for walking or driving while Latino.
Police officers, like priests, politicians and pimps, are not angels. Left to their own devices they will abuse their authority just as surely as Wall Street wiz kids will cheat in the absence of regulation. Doesn’t Mr. Will believe in original sin? Perhaps not.
The bold move by Arizona’s political establishment has thrown the GOP into disarray. Some Republicans, like ex-president and Texas Governor George W. Bush, understand the importance of building a political base within the Latino community. If you drive the minority population into the arms of the Democrats, men like Bush and Rove realize, you pay the price when America becomes a majority-minority nation.
But there is another argument. By defining the GOP as the party of white and the Democrats as the party of malcontents and minorities, conservatives can tap into a rich reserve of . . . well, let’s just call it pro-white sentiment.
Everyone these days is calling for Immigration reform. We all agree that the immigration system is broken. But some are trying to shorten and simplify the path to American citizenship while others want to halt immigration altogether.
Progressives refer to “the undocumented” while most conservatives prefer the term “illegal immigrants”. “What part of “illegal” do you not understand?” they ask. “If you aren’t a legal resident, you are breaking the law by being here. You’re a criminal. You need to be arrested, punished and deported.”
Progressives respond with the truism that we were all immigrants at some point. “Where would America be,” we ask, “If our great grandparents had been stopped at the border?”
African-Americans remind us that they came to America against their will.
Jewish Americans remember how their great grandparents were forced to sew the Star of David on their clothing as a sign of their pariah status.
In other words, this immigration stuff gets complicated.
Are the folks behind the new Arizona law (and similar legislation in the pipeline in other states) really concerned about the sheer volume of illegal immigrants entering America; or are they particularly exercized about the race and color of the illegals?
A study by the Southern Poverty Law Center ties the group driving the Arizona legislation to a shadowy network of white supremacy organizations including neo-nazis and the egregious Council of Conservative Citizens. Here’s an extended quotation from the Hate Watch website:
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is almost certainly the most-quoted immigration restriction organization in America. In just the last few weeks, its leaders have enlightened cable viewers with their views on such topics as “American ‘Intifada’ in Our Future?” “Driving While Illegal,” “Should ALL Illegal Aliens Be Deported?” and “Economic Impact of Migration.” In the past six years, FAIR officials have testified at least 30 times to Congress. Day in and day out, FAIR is taken seriously as a mainstream commentator on the immigration debate.
It shouldn’t be. The founder, chief ideologue and long-time funder of FAIR is a racist. Key staff members have ties to white supremacist groups, some are members, and some have spoken at hate group functions. FAIR has accepted more than $1 million from a racist foundation devoted to studies of race and IQ, and to eugenics — the pseudo-science of breeding a better human race that was utterly discredited by the Nazi euthanasia program. It spreads racist conspiracy theories. Its political ads have caused numerous politicians, Democratic and Republican, to denounce it.
When organizations like the FAIR and the Council of Conservative Citizens are granted mainstream status, or simply ignored, our political system is in serious jeopardy.
Last week, I spent several days driving across the Mississippi Delta. I couldn’t escape the realization that the bigotry on display in the Arizona legislature and on the Glenn Beck show was birthed in the white heat of racial conflict that erupted across the South in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The struggle was especially intense in the Mississippi Delta.
American conservatives started tapping into racial resentment the moment the Democrats abandoned the practice. This doesn’t mean that all conservatives are conscious supporters of white supremacy. But whenever the nativist impulse emerges in America you don’t have to dig very deep to find links to the hate groups the Southern Poverty Law Center monitors.
Apart from white racial resentment, the American conservative movement would be unimaginable. The problem isn’t conservatism, per se. Social and fiscal conservatism can co-exist with a healthy respect for diversity and a stout commitment to equality.
But that isn’t the kind of conservatism we are seeing in Arizona.
It’s time for true conservatives to clean house.