Karl Rove's June 21 column in Newsweek attacks President Obama's concerns about Arizona's recently passed immigration law. The president, writes Rove, "willingly mischaracterizes the Arizona law because doing so benefits his party and himself." He sneers at Obama's assertion that the law will turn "Latinos into subjects of suspicion and abuse." George W. Bush's former adviser is either (a) woefully misinformed and naive about the new law, or (b) back to his familiar pattern of prevarication.
Rove calls the Arizona statute a "tight and reasonable standard." So not so. Read it. It's loose, sloppy, and probably unconstitutional--even under a Roberts court. (One can hope.)
Look at what Rove calls a "narrowly drawn" set of conditions that police officers must meet, requirements he believes will prevent Latinos from being "routinely tormented" in the state of Arizona (or in copycat states): Cops must first make a "lawful stop, detention or arrest" in order to enforce the new immigration law. Second, they must have a "reasonable suspicion" that the person is an "alien." And, third, they "may not consider race, color, or national origin" in their decision to stop a person.
Let's examine these conditions in reverse order. Laws and written police policies from Maine to California, already explicitly ban discrimination based on "race, color, or national origin." Shall we take a poll of young African-American men or Latinos, ask them how that's working for them?
Next, what constitutes a "reasonable suspicion" that a Latino is an "alien"? His car? His height? Dress? Language? Accent? His presence, along with a dozen other men, outside a Home Depot? Perhaps it's his homelessness, the fact that he's camping out in an arroyo or behind a dumpster? Laws don't get any looser, or un-American than this one.
Finally, let's examine what constitutes a lawful stop.
It's July 29, the new law is now in effect in Arizona. You're a beat cop driving down Camelback Road in Phoenix, just after dark. You spot a '95 Chevy (sorry, Chevrolet) Malibu ahead, driven by a young Latina. You pull in behind, follow the vehicle for three quarters of a mile. The driver seems to be obeying all traffic laws. But she's aroused your suspicion; in fact you're certain she's an "illegal": a person caught in the act of not being an American.
And because an "immigration" bust in the Grand Canyon State has now become as significant as a burglary arrest, you decide to pull her over. (Scoring you extra points if you happen to be a deputy working for Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County. "America's Toughest [Self-Proclaimed] Sheriff" announced yesterday that the new law's implementation will be celebrated by yet another of his infamous immigration sweeps, a storm-trooping tactic that terrifies immigrants, legal and otherwise, rips families apart, and brings a big smile to the face of Arpaio.)
But before you can stop the Malibu you must first establish a "reasonable suspicion." What's your justification for a traffic stop? Well, if you've been a cop for more than five minutes you have a plethora of options: a tail light or license plate light out (or working only "intermittently"), the driver having drifted over the broken white line (a DUI?), or having driven three miles an hour over the limit, or six miles an hour under...
They're called "pretext" stops. Some courts frown on them (here in Washington State, for example), but they've led to splendid arrests: robbers, rapists, murderers. Terrorists. There is a place for pretext stops in police work. But conducted indiscriminately or with malice, they are a primary source of police misconduct, charges of racial profiling, and severely strained community relations. Look for much more of the latter if Arizona's law is not stopped. (The Justice Department seems poised to take action against the state this week or next.)
Is there a problem with immigration-related crime? Of course. U.S. cops in border cities (think San Diego-Tijuana; Calexico-Mexicali; Nogales [Arizona]-Nogales [Sonora]; El Paso-Ciudad Juarez; Brownsville-Matamoros) are intimately familiar with the real-world stories behind the headlines, as are police far away from the Mexican border: crime attributable to undocumented immigrants. It's a fact, and we can't wish it away.
This fact (and distortions of it) fuels anti-immigrant sentiment, especially if one happens to live in a neighborhood fraught with crimes committed by undocumented persons. But we must find the national nerve, maturity, and wisdom to frame the crime issue more comprehensively, and helpfully.
Undocumented immigrants, for example, are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crimes. Because of their status, they fly below the radar, stashing the cash they make from their backbreaking labors, then praying it won't get stolen. Undocumented immigrant women, in particular, are more likely than U.S. citizens to be the victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. But they rarely call the cops to report a crime. Especially in cities or states whose leaders lack compassion, or who pander to the inflamed passions of immigration critics.
Further, many if not most "immigrant" crimes are directly related to the U.S.-led global "war on drugs." This includes property crime, e.g., stealing to finance one's next fix, as well as violent offenses. With Mexican drug cartels having made deep incursions into the U.S., and homegrown drug gangs continuing to capitalize on illicit, untaxed profits, it's no wonder, for example, that Phoenix has become the "kidnapping capital" of the country, if not the world. The sooner we realize the fundamental folly of American drug laws -- and change them -- the sooner we'll enjoy dramatically improved public safety.
Comprehensive immigration reform is imperative. But as political hot potatoes go, this one's a scorcher. Rove's boss learned that the hard way. In his eight years in office, W., who the last time I checked was a Republican, didn't come close to achieving even a modicum of reform. Yet Rove writes that Obama, with only a year and a half in office (a busy one at that), would rather see a "racial wedge to inflame tensions between Latinos and Republicans" than "do... the hard work needed to pass comprehensive immigration reform."
So, when it comes to Arizona's immigration law, is Rove being dumb or deceitful? Since he's given to whoppers (denying his role in the firing of U.S. Attorneys; lying until threatened with indictment in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, to cite just two instances), I'm going with disingenuousness.
Obama clearly needs to exercise more leadership on immigration reform, but Rove ridiculously labels the president's handling of the issue "shameful." That's an apt description of his own behavior.