The word "courage" gets thrown around pretty casually in discussions about politics.
But examples of real courage are rare. For the most part, politicians of both parties follow the routes that are safest for them - even when they know they are wrong. Take Arizona Senator John McCain, once an advocate for humane and responsible immigration reform, but now a defender of the crude anti-immigrant crusade implemented by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and her legislative cronies.
McCain knows he is wrong. But he also knows that he faces a tough Republican primary challenge from former Congressman J.D. Hayworth, an immigrant-bashing extremist who has dialed up the crazy by backing demands that President Obama produce a birth certificate to prove he was born in the United States.
Unfortunately, in Arizona these days, beating up immigrants has become the preferred practice of play-it-safe politicians.
But not all elected official in Arizona is playing it safe.
There actually are a few statesmen (and women) left. For instance, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, a Democrat, has been proposed a lawsuit to block the Arizona law. Gordon says: "America is a country that is compassionate and that welcomes everyone. This is not what this country and this state was founded upon."
Similarly, State Representative Krysten Sinema, a Phoenix Democrat who serves as her party's assistant leader in the state House, is working with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund to organize legal challenges to what she dismisses as "worst immigration bill in the country."
First and foremost among the courageous dissenters by any measure, however, is Congressman Raul Grijalva, who has taken the lead in opposing the anti-immigrant legislation signed by Brewer.
While many other top Democrats have been cautious and bureaucratic in their criticism of Brewer, Grijalva has been outspoken and unyielding. Showing the skills of the organizer he once was, the congressman has pulled together rallies and coordinated opposition in Arizona and Washington, where on Wednesday Grijalva was set to be joined by several House Democratic Caucus colleagues at a press conference denouncing the Arizona legislation.
Even in the face of threatened violence, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has refused to back off or back down. And it is his combination of courage and consistency that has helped to frame the opposition to the law.
The congressman decried the legislation in a letter to President Obama, which declared Arizona's "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act" as "a dangerous and mean spirited law that improperly imposes state law upon Federal prerogatives relating to matters of foreign policy, immigration and naturalization."
The bill encourages racial profiling and threatens the safety and privacy of immigrants and citizens, especially Latinos. I call on your leadership to challenge, in any way possible, this unconstitutional and discriminatory law. I urge you to make clear that the Federal Government will not participate in any way in the enforcement of this law or cooperate with the state of Arizona in its implementation and execution.
The bill is a serious overstep of state authority in Federal issues. If enacted, SB 1070 would arrogate to each Arizona law enforcement office and public official the power and duty to determine and enforce immigration law by transforming civil and criminal violations of immigration law into Arizona criminal offenses and by creating state immigration criminal offenses where none exist under Federal law.
In intent and effect, SB 1070 bypasses the delicate balance of state and Federal responsibilities and limited authority conferred on selected local law enforcement officials under the 28 7(g) program and reverses the scheme of 28 7(g) by effectively deputizing Federal immigration officials to enforce state laws.
SB 1070 does not sufficiently focus on serious crime related to illegal immigration.
Instead it creates new immigration status-based crimes and inflexible mandates that will misdirect enforcement efforts away from persons who pose serious threats to public safety.
Even more troubling, SB 1070 requires state and local officials to act on limited and often faulty information, including encouraging action based on race, national origin and English language. In deputizing local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law Arizona would undermine public safety, public trust and diverts scarce resources and increase its exposure to liability and litigation.
The Arizonan legislative measure requires and demands your active involvement and cooperation. I ask that you immediately cease the establishment of new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) under 287(g) program in the state of Arizona. I further encourage you to terminate and revise existing agreements within the state. 287(g) agreements in the state of Arizona have been subject to serious concerns as local law enforcement agencies have used the new powers to target communities of color, including a disproportionate number of Latinos for arrest.
Currently, the Department of Justice has launched a civil rights investigation into the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office, whose 28 7(g) program has been widely criticized for engaging in racial and ethnic profiling. SB 1070 would exacerbate the problem of racial profiling embedded within 287(g) and would continue to compromises the civil rights of citizens, legal residents, tourist and foreign visitors.
Mr. President, I urge you to implement your existing authority to limit your cooperation with Arizona officials in their enforcement of SB 1070. Swift action on your part will send a clear message that the Federal government will not support Arizona's unconstitutional and discriminatory actions.
That call did not sit well with backers of what Grijalva correctly identified as "Arizona's unconstitutional and discriminatory actions."
So many death threats and threats of violence were called in to his offices that the congressman was forced to close his district offices in Tucson and Yuma early last Friday.
Tucson police were stationed outside the Tucson office.
Despite the threats, Grijalva continued to appear in public and to rally the opposition.
On Saturday, outside his campaign headquarters in Tucson, the congressman led a rally opposing the new law. He even issued a call for conventions to boycott Arizona - a call that was answered by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which canceled its fall convention in Scottsdale. The immigration lawyers declared, "We cannot in good conscience spend association dollars in a state that dehumanizes the people we represent and fight for."
The congressman called on his colleagues to "show the spine and the humanity to reform immigration laws."
Grijalva has shown the spine. And in so doing he has kept his oath to defend the constitution.
The question is whether other members of Congress, most of whom face far fewer political and physical threats, will display the same courage as the immigration debate heats up.