With encouragement from the Republican Party’s most recent presidential nominee, the no-longer-maverick Senator John McCain, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on Friday signed anti-immigrant legislation so crude in its construction that even conservative commentators say it will do damage to Arizona’s economic recovery and undermine public safety.
Presidents rarely condemn state laws.
But the man who beat McCain in 2008, Barack Obama, did so Friday.
The president described the legislation, which would allow Arizona’s state police to check the documents of people they suspect are immigrants, as "misguided."
"The recent efforts in Arizona… threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans as well as the trust in police and their communities that are so crucial to keeping us safe," said Obama, who pledged that his administration would "closely monitor the situation (in Arizona)" and "examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation."
That’s the right response from Obama to the decision of Brewer, a Republican seeking reelection in the most desperate of ways, to sign the legislation.
The question is whether responsible Republicans – if there are any left – will join the president in rejecting a reaction to immigration concerns so extreme that has been compared with the "pass laws" that were enacted by South Africa’s apartheid government."
McCain, who might once has been expected to take the lead in such an initiative, has abandoned his mainstream stance on immigration reform as he battles to retain his Senate seat in a tight Republican primary with a far-right challenger. Now, McCain describes a law a "good tool" for law enforcement.
With such statements, the senior senator from Arizona confirms that he is a lost cause.
But other Republicans will have plenty of fodder for siding with Obama, not McCain and the anti-immigrant militias and Minutemen.
As the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s top immigration policy analyst, Alex Nowraste, notes: "The (Arizona) law should be called the ‘Job Destruction and Crime Promotion Act of 2010’. Placing more restrictions on Arizona employers, who are already required to use the federal government’s E-Verify tracking system, will only make an economic recovery less likely in the Grand Canyon State. Furthermore, it will overburden Arizona’s already fiscally-strapped police departments with the impossible task of enforcing this law."
In other words, the law is anti-business and anti-law enforcement.
It is, as well, at odds with the Biblical teachings that many Republicans – and not a few Democrats – claim to be guided by.
The Rev. Jim Wallis, who leads the Sojourners movement – a national witness that seeks to "articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world" – was one of many prominent clerics who rejected the law as an affront to their faith.
The law signed today by Arizona Gov. Brewer is a social and racial sin, and should be denounced as such by people of faith and conscience across the nation. It is not just about Arizona, but about all of us, and about what kind of country we want to be. It is not only mean-spirited – – it will be ineffective and will only serve to further divide communities in Arizona, making everyone more fearful and less safe. This radical new measure, which crosses many moral and legal lines, is a clear demonstration of the fundamental mistake of separating enforcement from comprehensive immigration reform. Enforcement without reform of the system is merely cruel. Enforcement without compassion is immoral. Enforcement that breaks up families is unacceptable. This law will make it illegal to love your neighbor in Arizona, and will force us to disobey Jesus and his gospel. We will not comply.
There will be much talk about the political response to the Arizona law, and rightly so.
But Rev. Wallis has outlined the moral response, not merely for progressives or Democrats, but for conservatives and Republicans, indeed, for all recognize the requirement of the lesson that: "You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, having been strangers in the land of Egypt."