Ahead of a competitive Arizona primary, Mitt Romney said that the state's immigration law SB1070 would make a strong model for the rest of the country. While this may be smart politics in a Republican primary where rhetorical thumping of chests has replaced cogent articulation of any immigration policy, conversely it is also indicative of the fact that the GOP presidential field has a stunning lack of understanding of how state-passed immigration laws work and very real contempt for the Hispanic vote.
The GOP embrace of SB1070 as a national model is ridiculous for several reasons. As Andrés Oppenheimer recently wrote these laws are toxic for states that have passed them and are exceedingly difficult to enforce. The difficulty in enforcing these laws does not come from the various lawsuits which come with them, but from the fact that these state passed immigration laws are designed to mirror federal enforcement practices without giving states the resources to enforce these laws adequately. States quite simply do not have the infrastructure, money or time to enforce federal immigration laws. Despite the open rancor of these GOP debates, and the chest thumping of a few local elected officials, the fact remains that the majority of states in the country are facing an improving fragile economy and are looking to capitalize and grow. Re-regulating federal immigration law is quite simply not something the majority of local legislatures have much interest in.
The GOP's lone contribution to fixing our broken immigration system, so called "self-deportation," is completely contrary to a state model. Under this scenario if a state like Arizona passes SB1070 and California, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico do not pass similar laws, then what is to stop an undocumented immigrant from simply moving to another state as opposed to leaving the country? Even if the Supreme Court was to rule that states can pass their own immigration laws, there is no guarantee that even half of the states in the country would do so. Why? Because most states do not want the added cost and problem of enforcing federal immigration laws. States know the federal immigration system is broken, but they also know that at this point they cannot fix a national problem on their own.
For those who may think that an embrace of these state laws may pay political dividends, think again; these laws are politically toxic to the Hispanic community. As a recent Time Magazine cover story pointed out, Hispanics will be a deciding factor in this year's presidential race. Poll after poll shows that the Republican candidates who continue to embrace these harsh immigration laws see their profile diminish with the Hispanic community on a national basis. Arizona Senator John McCain, who had some good will built up in the Hispanic community from his time as an avid immigration crusader, only got 31% of the Hispanic vote. The top three Republican candidates do not have nearly that type of recognition among the Hispanic base. Among Hispanic voters none of the GOP candidates receives more than 24% in a head to head match up with President Obama.
The most frustrating thing about the Republican Party's embrace of a patchwork of immigration laws is that it misses the broader problems facing local governments; our federal immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed, not by states but by Congress. The original drafters of SB1070 legislation wrote the law to directly challenge the federal government to do something about the current national law. These state laws were never designed to be sustainable models for the country; they were designed to highlight problems in our current legal system.
Over the last three years the Obama Administration has done its due diligence to enhance our immigration system, including making legal immigration more efficient and smarter enforcement of our current immigration laws. The GOP's embrace of these laws in their primary season merely highlights the intellectual bankruptcy of the right on immigration. The fact remains that it is disingenuous at best for the Republican Party to say out of one corner of their mouth that our immigration system is broken, then do everything they can in Congress to stop any wholesale fix, all the while pushing state-passed laws based on our federal immigration system as a solution to our broken system. Our states and our country deserve better.