As the Democrats begin to worry about the potential impact on Fall elections of the Obama administration's lawsuit against the Arizona immigration law, this is no time to back off. Decisive action and leadership from the top is a must in a country whose racial and ethnic makeup is evolving quicker than policymakers seem capable of thoughtfully and appropriately legislating.
Distraught and looking for someone to blame for illegal immigration, the public opinion poll numbers are at first glance anti-lawsuit. According to a Pew Research Center poll, 59 percent of respondents approve of the Arizona law. Another poll released Monday by TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence (TIPP) finds that although 51 percent of Americans support the law, the numbers swing drastically the other direction primarily among the people most likely to be impacted by it -- Hispanics and blacks, with 61 percent instead approving of the suit. The overall numbers are skewed by white respondents unlikely to be targeted or disenfranchised by the law with just 30 percent supporting the suit.
Right now, the suit claims only that Arizona pre-empted federal authority to police the border. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is already talking about additional legal action if the Justice Department determines the law condones racial profiling and is used to target Hispanics.
Of course the law targets Hispanics. The most stringent immigration law in the country requires anyone suspected of being in the country illegally to carry with them and produce a green card or other proof of citizenship, such as a passport or Arizona driver's license. Whites simply aren't going to be stopped because of the law. The problems arise for Hispanics and other minorities here legally. They may even have been born here. They risk being stopped, questioned, harassed, even arrested if they don't produce papers other Americans aren't required to carry.
The Justice Department argues the law would divert federal and local law enforcement officers by making them focus on people who may not have committed crimes and has asked for a court injunction to prevent the law from taking effect on July 29. Signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on April 23, the law makes it a crime to be an illegal immigrant in the state and requires officers to determine the immigration status of people they stop for another offense.
An article in the New York Times on Sunday highlighted reaction from governors throughout the country at the National Governors Association meeting in Boston. The consensus: Bad timing for the suit.
"Universally the governors are saying, 'We've got to talk about jobs,'" said Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat, calling immigration "a toxic subject."
Addressing illegal immigration may have consequences, and it should. It is a very real issue that needs to be confronted at the highest levels of government with broad, sweeping implementation for the sake of the nearly 200 languages and cultures, and more than 24 million of us speaking a language other than English. Laws like the Arizona one paint targets on the foreheads of millions of us. It sets a dangerous precedent for other states to do the same, muddying the waters from state to state in creating a whirlwind of confusion and danger for far too many law-abiding citizens.
Immigration is an explosive subject that raises many questions with no clear resolution. It is clear this law and other pending state laws like it are not the answer.
No one here legally should be a target in the United States. Not in Arizona. Not anywhere.
Louis Provenzano is President and Chief Operating Officer of Language Line Services, the world's leading provider of language-based services.
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