The sweet nothings Hillary Clinton whispered into the ears of foreign television audiences went stateside on Friday, as America media outlets began confirming what the secretary of state first told an Ecuadoran news channel: the Obama administration is planning a lawsuit against Arizona's new immigration law.
Publicly, Obama administration lawyers will only admit that a thorough "review" of SB 1070 is ongoing. But the toothpaste is out of the tube. Officials in Eric Holder's Justice Department are quietly giving word that it is a matter of when, not if, they will seek to subvert Arizona's attempt to protect its people from porous borders.
On cue, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard -- the Democratic gubernatorial candidate -- dropped his promised "vigorous legal defense" of the law. Goddard opposed the statute and had been sparring with Gov. Jan Brewer, his likely Republican opponent in the general election, about how it will be defended.
According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, Americans side with Arizona by a 58 percent to 41 percent margin. In late May, Quinnipiac put the numbers at 51 percent to 31 percent. CBS found that 52 percent think the Arizona law is "about right" while only 28 percent believe it "goes too far." Another 17 percent said it doesn't go far enough. The breakdown among Democrats was 46 percent "just right," 40 percent "too far," and 10 percent "not far enough."
These numbers come in spite of a very public campaign to boycott Arizona and label the new law a tool of racists, Nazis, and Communists. "While opinions on immigration are complex," Atlantic blogger Chris Good notes cautiously, "it's reasonable to wonder if the administration's decision to sue Arizona will turn out to be an unpopular move."
So reasonable, in fact, that the administration went all the way to Ecuador to find a suitable launch pad for its Arizona trial balloon -- and these are people who are as adept at fencing themselves off from public opinion as they are incompetent at fencing off the border. Let us hope that the Justice Department's legal case is based on something more substantial than the secretary of state's disinformation.
"President Obama has spoken out against the law because he thinks that the federal government should be determining immigration policy," said Mrs. Clinton. But Arizona did not create new immigration violations out of thin air. It took what were already federal crimes and made them state ones too, while giving local police a reasonable opportunity to enforce them. In other words, Arizona followed the federal government's immigration policy.
Even the state's enforcement role is limited. Arizona can't deport anyone. It can only refer the people it believes are illegal immigrants to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The federal government remains the ultimate arbiter of who is in the country illegally and still sets immigration policy.
The federal government's bipartisan dereliction of duty on this front is precisely what prompted Arizona to act in the first place. Washington has failed to effectively enforce its own immigration laws, either at the border or in the workplace. It has allowed Arizona's illegal population to explode from 300,000 to 560,000 in less than a decade. The feds only partially completed a security fence, actually diverting inflows into Arizona and making it the entry point for more than half the country's illegal immigrants.
When Arizonans tried to do something about it, John Morton, Obama's head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (which is under the jurisdiction of Homeland Security), said his agency might not process suspected illegal immigrants referred to it under SB 1070. Now, after the president made some obligatory pro-enforcement noises in a White House meeting with Governor Brewer, the Obama Justice Department seeks to have liberal judges overturn the whole thing.
Arizona had already revised the law to address concerns that Hispanic Americans might be racially profiled. It has already passed a series of other tough enforcement measures which may have helped reduce its illegal population by 18 percent between 2008 and 2009, compared to 7 percent nationally. But the Obama administration will not give the latest Arizona law a chance to work or even show that it can be implemented fairly.
Up until now, the political class's biggest contribution to controlling illegal immigration has been wrecking the American economy to the point that many illegal immigrants have decided they are better off at home. No word on where Arizonans are supposed to go now that the Obama administration has decided they cannot protect themselves from a constitutionally indifferent federal government's manifest immigration failures.
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