THE BLOG
06/24/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama and the Arizona Immigration Law

The key provision to worry about in this repressive legislation is the idea that anyone illegally present in the state of Arizona broke the law. Law enforcement is authorized to go after people who are suspected of committing this misdemeanor.

Yet in the Schumer/Graham immigration plan being touted by Obama, the central idea is to make undocumented immigrants accept that they "broke the law." What does this mean? Admit that they committed a misdemeanor? Or a felony? Forever after be branded as criminals, and lose certain rights or privileges attached to citizenship?

Obama never said a word in support of the humane Gutierrez legislation introduced in the House in December 2009. As expected, he got behind the far more punitive Schumer/Graham plan.

Arizona has only taken the (im)moral lead from the White House and taken it to its logical, extreme conclusion.

At no point in the last year and a half have Obama and his people tried to change the tone on immigration. Raids continue. Deportations are at record levels, despite the presumably far smaller flow of immigrants due to the depressed economy. The idea of criminality has become completely intertwined with immigration. The administration makes no attempt to sever the connection; instead, it emphasizes it at every turn.

Schumer/Graham want a biometric identity card for all Americans. Arizona is just trying to do it in a clumsy, manual, heavy-handed way. The idea is the same. Brown people are to be suspected from the get-go until they can clear their name.

The Arizona law is the natural outcome of caving in to xenophobia and exaggerated fears of terrorism at the federal level. Sure, Arizona is crazy, reprehensible, self-destructive. They'll bring ruin on their own economy, for one thing. But the feds are no less insane and "misguided," to use Obama's own language.

This is the price to pay for a year and a half of indifference to constitutional procedures. In an environment where the federal government continues to operate secret prisons, refuses to end the Guantanamo principle, and doesn't unequivocally separate itself from torture, why should the Arizona law be any surprise?

It's been Obama, far more than Bush, who has successfully implemented the idea at the practical level that local law enforcement is the appropriate agency to enforce immigration laws. Janet Napolitano, former Arizona governor, is firmly behind the idea. Yet they act surprised when Arizona formalizes the principle.

Instead of prospectively warning Arizona of having to face the full brunt of the law, Obama calmly announces that his administration will look into possible illegality. Sure, let things take their course, and meanwhile use the opportunity to tout your own criminalizing piece of legislation.

What "reform" can we expect at the federal level? It won't just be Arizona immigrants having to admit they broke the law. It will be all undocumented immigrants. It's okay if Obama presents it as "reform."