It Worked So Well For Bush…

Whenever President Bush talked about immigration, his approval ratings went down. It was like clockwork: liberals never understood that the fatal decline in Bush’s popularity during his second term had at least as much to do with his advocacy of “comprehensive immigration reform” as with war-weariness. Now President Obama has entered the lists, urging Congress to take up immigration. One can only wonder what Congressional Democrats make of this. Maybe they figure their own approval ratings can’t possibly get any lower. But Obama’s can, and they will if he keeps talking about immigration.
In Arizona, frustrated by ongoing lack of enforcement of immigration laws by the federal government, the legislature has taken matters into its own hands, adopting legislation to try to crack down on illegals. This is how the Associated Press summarizes the Arizona statute:

_ Makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally by specifically requiring immigrants to have proof of their immigration status. Violations are a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Repeat offenses would be a felony.
_ Requires police officers to “make a reasonable attempt” to determine the immigration status of a person if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that he or she is an illegal immigrant. Race, color or national origin may not be the only things considered in implementation. Exceptions can be made if the attempt would hinder an investigation.
_ Allow lawsuits against local or state government agencies that have policies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws. Would impose daily civil fines of $1,000-$5,000. There is pending follow-up legislation to halve the minimum to $500.
_ Targets hiring of illegal immigrants as day laborers by prohibiting people from stopping a vehicle on a road to offer employment and by prohibiting a person from getting into a stopped vehicle on a street to be hired for work if it impedes traffic.

It isn’t clear to me what, in that legislation, is controversial. If we take seriously the idea that immigration laws are to be enforced, Arizona’s measures seem rather modest. But Barack Obama thinks Arizona’s effort to sustain the rule of law is “irresponsible.” In public remarks today, Obama said:

I’ll continue to consult with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and I would note that 11 current Republican Senators voted to pass immigration reform four years ago. I’m hopeful that they will join with Democrats in doing so again so we can make the progress the American people deserve.
Indeed, our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others. And that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.
In fact, I’ve instructed members of my administration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation. But if we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country.

How, exactly, does Arizona’s law “threaten[] to undermine basic notions of fairness”? Why is it unfair to enforce the immigration laws? Most Americans would say that it undermines basic notions of fairness when our government deliberately refuses to enforce the laws Congress has passed, to the disadvantage of our citizens. And as far as trust between police and “communities” is concerned–assuming we are talking about communities of American citizens–one would think it would improve trust if citizens can see that the laws are being enforced. It’s funny, isn’t it: liberals love to talk about the “rule of law” when they are trying to create never-before-seen “rights” belonging to enemy combatants. But where is the “rule of law” when the laws relating to immigration are studiously ignored, if not deliberately undermined?
What is most striking about Obama’s harsh condemnation of the state of Arizona is its political myopia. It is hard, offhand, to think of precedents for a President denouncing a state law in such vituperative fashion. Evidently Obama doesn’t think he has a chance of carrying Arizona in 2012–assuming that he intends to run for re-election, which I am starting to doubt. More broadly, he seems to have learned nothing from the Bush administration’s experience with comprehensive immigration “reform.”

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