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Commentary: Razing Arizona

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 6, 2010 - According to press reports, it seems that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has lost her mind. She recently signed a bill into law that authorizes cops in her state to check the immigration status of people with whom they come into contact. Imagine that: Cops trying to enforce the law...

It goes without saying that the governor and her cohorts in the state legislature are racist dogs because most of the illegals in Arizona are Latinos, but "racism" can often better describe behavior than explain it. After all, why would a bunch of politicians go out of their way to intentionally alienate the largest ethnic voting bloc in their district? Are they so blinded by baseless, xenophobic paranoia that they've forgotten how to count?

Civil libertarians, crusading newspaper editors, defense attorneys, immigration advocates and sympathetic clergy are up in arms over this obvious attempt to curtail the civil rights of law-abiding Hispanic Americans. President Barack Obama has expressed concern. In some quarters, calls for a boycott of the state have been raised.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is duly alarmed. Columnist Kevin Horrigan went so far as to speculate that Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols could be subjected to Gestapo-style interrogation should the 2011 All-Star Game be held in Phoenix as scheduled. Why would Arizona officials go out of their way to kick over this hornet nest? The May 1 Post offered an unintended clue to the answer for that riddle.

Page A4 featured a two-column wide, above-the-fold article under the headline, "Controversial immigration law tweaked." The piece recounted the major provisions of the bill along with details of legislative efforts to make it constitutionally less offensive. Apparently, the "tweaking" was insufficient to allay fears because the article concluded with reports of plans for a local protest march against the measure.

The opposite page contained a one-paragraph blurb buried within a potpourri of random news from around the nation. In the interest of accuracy, I will quote that item verbatim:

"Deputy rescued After a frantic hour long desert search, authorities found a deputy wounded in a shootout with suspected illegal immigrants apparently hauling bales of marijuana along a major smuggling corridor in southern Arizona. The deputy was found with a superficial wound -- a chunk of skin torn from just above his left kidney -- after being shot with an AK-47 on Friday afternoon, Pinal County sheriff's Lt. Tamatha Villar said. He was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Casa Grande, about 40 miles south of Phoenix."

No mention of any planned protest marches on behalf of the wounded deputy, but maybe Arizona lawmakers thought they should do something about drug-running illegal aliens armed with machine guns shooting it out with the cops along "a major smuggling corridor" in their state. I mean, I'm just saying...

Laws tend to be enacted in response to a perceived need. That fact explains why there are so many boating regulations at the Lake of the Ozarks and so few in Death Valley. Obviously, authorities in Arizona recognized that they are being overrun by illegal immigration and -- absent any meaningful federal relief -- took matters into their own hands.

Q: Won't Latinos be scrutinized more closely than other residents?

A: Yes.

If you're going to catch fish, you'll have to cast your nets where the fish are. Spending half your time fishing swimming pools to demonstrate that you're not prejudiced against ponds and lakes will do nothing to increase your yield, just as forcing my mother to take her shoes off before she can fly to visit her granddaughters does nothing to make air travel safer.

Virtually all illegal immigration in Arizona comes across its southern border with Mexico, which is a foreign country populated by a disproportionate number of Mexicans. So yes, Hispanics in Arizona will probably be asked to verify their immigration status more often than other ethnicities. And no, that practical fact does not justify charges of racism.

Suppose the police broadcast a description of a murderer. The doer is described as a "white male, 6'4" tall, with red hair, armed with an axe." Of course, the modern law enforcement administrator will be quick to include a disclaimer that most tall, axe-wielding, red-headed males are in fact law-abiding lumberjacks who have made innumerable contributions to the well-being of the nation. But people who answer the description will invariably attract more attention from the cops than will short bald guys.

Although the amended law specifically precludes skin color as the sole basis for a police stop, critics remain skeptical. Perhaps they should review the history of this issue.

In 1986, conservative icon Ronald Reagan signed a bill that granted amnesty to illegals who had resided here continuously since at least 1982. The new law, in effect, rewarded law-breakers based on the longevity of their careers. That measure was supposed to wipe the slate clean and tough new sanctions were to prevent the problem from recurring.

Twenty-four years later, we find ourselves with fresh illegal inhabitants estimated to total somewhere between 13 million (Federation for American Immigration Reform) and 22 million (Immigration counters) -- about the population of a medium-sized country.

We thus have a phantom nation operating within our borders.

Some of its members -- like the smugglers -- commit crimes of violence in furtherance of their illicit business. Others, who come here simply to work, depress the wage scale and contribute to domestic joblessness while over-taxing the public service resources of already broke state and local governments.

The Arizona initiative may be imperfect, but that is not to say that it's unnecessary...

M.W. Guzy is a retired St. Louis cop who currently works for the city Sheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon.

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