The debate over Arizona's mean-spirited (and probably unconstitutional) immigration law — and the Obama Justice Department's lawsuit seeking to overturn it — is starting to hit home here in Maryland.
Gov. Martin O'Malley will co-chair a National Governors Association panel on homeland security and public safety issues with none other than Gov. Janice K. Brewer of Arizona, champion of that state's new law that encourages police to check the immigration status of people they arrest. At the same time, The New York Times reported that Mr. O'Malley was among a number of Democratic governors who "voiced apprehension" about the federal lawsuit during a private meeting, although he publicly supported the administration's action in fighting Arizona's law.
Mr. O'Malley may be feeling caught in a bit of a bind — wanting to stand behind President Barack Obama and feeling that Arizona's law is morally wrong, but fearing that this issue could play to the disadvantage of Democrats (including him) in November's elections.
He should cast his doubts aside. Arizona's law is misguided and shameful, and anyone with a conscience, regardless of party, needs to stand up and clearly say so. It makes being an illegal immigrant in Arizona a state offense and requires local police to determine the immigration status of people they stop for other reasons if they have a "reasonable suspicion" the person may be in the country illegally.
U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn Arizona's law on constitutional grounds, claiming that it usurps the federal government's authority to enforce immigration law and interferes with its ability to conduct foreign policy. The suit contends a patchwork of 50 different state immigration laws would create chaos and make a mishmash of relations with foreign governments.
But there are also more immediate consequences to allowing individual states to set immigration policy. Police chiefs in Arizona's two largest cities, Phoenix and Tucson, say their departments are ill-equipped or trained to enforce immigration laws and that requiring officers to do so would divert resources and manpower away from more urgent tasks. It would also sow distrust of the police among Hispanic communities, making residents there less likely to report crimes and to cooperate as witnesses.
Moreover, the law is an open invitation to abuses such as illegal racial profiling. Though it requires officers to act only when there's "reasonable suspicion" a person may be an illegal immigrant, it leaves the reasonableness standard deliberately vague. As a result, it could make virtually anyone with dark skin or a Spanish accent subject to detention by the police. Mr. Holder has indicated he may bring a second lawsuit against the Arizona statute if it appears to foster such unlawful discrimination.
Ms. Brewer has lately been spouting all manner of falsehoods about immigrants in her state in an effort to justify this heinous legislation, including the outrageous claim that the majority of illegal immigrants in her state are engaged in the drug trade (experts estimate no more than 5 percent of illegals participate in such crimes) and the equally inflammatory charge that 80 percent of police officers killed in the line of duty die at the hands of illegal immigrants, a statement for which there is absolutely no basis in fact. She should be called out on the carpet by both Democrats and Republicans like Arizona Sen. John McCain, who once supported comprehensive immigration reform but abandoned that approach when it was no longer politically expedient.
Democrats can't afford to shed their principles so shamelessly, not only because it would be morally wrong but also because it would be political suicide to alienate a key demographic that will soon constitute the largest minority voting bloc in the country. Ms. Brewer may be Mr. O'Malley's partner in tackling homeland security issues, but he should make it clear that he will have nothing to do with "solutions" that encourage racial profiling and immigrant-bashing.