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Arizona’s Ugly but Indispensable Law

There are countless aspects of government that are less than appealing to one degree or another; that doesn't mean they're not worthwhile.

There's no denying, for instance, that there’s something unattractive about the police, local or otherwise, asking citizens for their “papers” (though the same cannot be said when the question is aimed at illegal immigrants). There’s something equally unsightly about American citizens’ being probed and searched at airports. And what about IRS agents’ peering into your personal financial records or, thanks to the passage of Obamacare, acting as national health-insurance enforcement.

In other words, all too much sanctioned government behavior is unappealing in one way or another. But that is not by itself an argument against it. The Patriot Act was ugly — and indispensable.

Look at California’s decision to “lead by example” on global warming. Environmental activists claimed that Washington was ignoring climate change at the federal level. Therefore, they claimed that California had an obligation to take on a national problem at the state level. The Golden State imposed standards that are much stricter (for now) than those required by Washington.

Arizona’s law is much humbler than that. While California created a stricter standard than Washington's, Arizona seeks only to enforce the federal law that Washington refuses to.

Constitutional issues make the analogy less than perfect, but the principle remains. And surely the costs of illegal immigration to Arizona — social, environmental, economic — far surpass the costs to California of global warming.

President Obama, interestingly, seems to have a dim understanding of this, saying recently: “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.”

This is absurdly confrontational, since he assumes that Arizona’s effort to address a problem is best seen as “irresponsible” — as if not acting at the local level while nothing is done at the federal level is somehow more responsible. But then again, “irresponsible” is high praise, compared with the "Nazi" and “apartheid” accusations coming from some of the law's opponents, including, amazingly, Los Angeles cardinal Roger Mahony.

Ironically enough, Obama is right: Arizona’s action is the predictable result of Washington’s refusal to take the illegal immigration issue seriously.

Which is why the Democrats’ sudden enthusiasm for “comprehensive” immigration reform is so hard to believe. If it was a sincere, it would be praiseworthy. But it’s difficult to find anyone in Washington not paid to parrot Dem talking points who considers this to be anything but a political ploy. Even stalwart liberal bloggers like Josh Marshall and Ezra Klein admit that this is above all a partisan maneuver, an attempt to divide the GOP and seduce Latinos, especially in Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in desperate need of a sea-change if he wants to avoid resounding defeat in November.

Now, wedge issues per se are not a bad thing — even if liberals have always denounced them. But this is crossing the line. Whipping up a lot of voter rage on both sides of the issue without any prospect of success just sends a signal to Washington that it can safely and cynically go on treating it as a game. Which is precisely why more laws like Arizona’s are on the horizon, and genuine immigration reform will become that much more difficult than it is now.



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