Just when you think the Democrats are in trouble with Latino voters, when their failure to keep their promises to reform our immigration system have them cornered and against the ropes, out come the self-destructive Republicans with new and even more Draconian anti-immigrant measures as if to save the Democrats from the beating they deserve.
Take the Republican-driven legislation signed by the Republican governor of Arizona last week and supported even by the most recent Republican to run for president. It is the most racist, discriminatory and unconstitutional measure seen in recent history. It has a state usurping the powers of the federal government. It legalizes racial profiling, putting legal immigrants and naturalized citizens in jeopardy of needless harassment by police. It penalizes American citizens even for transporting undocumented immigrants, as if they were ferocious animals.
They say they are going after illegal immigrants, but this measure declares war on legal residents and American citizens. It opens the gate for so many violations of the constitutional rights of many Latinos and other legal immigrants that civil liberties lawyers are lining up to file suits against it, and it is hard to imagine a court that would allow it to become law as scheduled (some time in August).
Yet the damage is done. Republicans have given new life to the Democrats. Once again, although the Democrats have done nothing to reform immigration, they will be able to point to Arizona and tell Latinos to consider the alternative.
"OK, so we don't keep our promises to help you," the Democrats now can say. "What are you going to do, vote for a Republican who promises to hate you?"
When towns across the country have tried to implement similar crackdowns, many respected law enforcement officials have argued that those measures destroy the trust between police and their communities, that they drive undocumented immigrants further underground and make them reluctant to report crimes they may have witnessed, fearing that they, too, will be arrested. Instead of fighting crime, these ordinances encourage crime to go unreported.
Considered the most severe crackdown on undocumented immigrants by a state government and introduced as an alleged reaction to the federal government's inability to deal with the immigration problem, the Arizona law gives state law enforcement officers the power of federal officers, and it makes it a crime under state law to be in the United States illegally. But it goes further than that. It actually requires local cops to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal immigrants.
Of course, no one knows what constitutes "reason to suspect." What does an undocumented immigrant look like? If it's up to the discretion of officers, even legal immigrants in Arizona are bound to be the subjects of unnecessary harassment.
If this law were to be allowed to go into effect, naturalized American citizens — including decorated American war heroes — would have to carry a passport or other proof of citizenship to get around in Arizona without being subject to arrest.
President Barack Obama called the law "misguided," but "shameful" would have been a better word. He instructed the Justice Department to examine whether it is legal, but he should have sent the feds there a long time ago — to stop the Maricopa County sheriff, who has been violating the civil rights of immigrants for many months.
Who would have thought of it? A black president who is slow to respond to civil rights violations against minorities! Yet considering the Republican alternative, the Democrats can afford to do nada and still get the bulk of the Hispanic vote.
When Republicans pass measures like this one — driven by the right-wing extremists who are burying their party — they show that their vendetta is not just against undocumented immigrants, but all immigrants, even those who are naturalized American citizens. It shows that their agenda is driven by racism and xenophobia.
So what are Latino Republicans to do, continue supporting a party that promotes laws to discriminate against them? How many Latino Uncle Toms do Republicans expect to find? This may be the straw that sinks the Republican elephant once and for all in the Hispanic community.
Normally, unless politicians really rattle their lives, U.S. Latinos have been apathetic about participating in civic activism and the electoral process. They don't act; they react! And it takes a good slap in the face — such as the one dispensed by Arizona last week — before they even think of striking back.
Like California's Proposition 187 — which tried to deny education and other services even to undocumented children and which suffered many defeats in the courts some 16 years ago — this law has the potential to drive Latinos to register to vote in record numbers and to boot a few of the mean-spirited xenophobes out of office, as they did in California.
What seemed like an impossible dream for this year — comprehensive immigration reform — may be possible now because of the backlash Arizona deserves. Now that Arizona has gone after all immigrants (legal and illegal), the protests across the country will be much bigger, and so will the pressure on politicians to stop xenophobic repression.
Some activists already are calling on all Americans who still value our civil liberties and who recognize our proud history as a nation of immigrants to boycott traveling to or doing business with Arizona.
Someday, in the not-too-distant future, some people will look back and regret having been so heartless with other human beings whose only crime was to seek a better life in the U.S. And yet others will have no regrets. In Arizona, some never will be ashamed of being so mean-spirited, but they still will kick themselves — for being stupid enough to have ignited a new civil rights movement and for giving Democrats another free pass to the hearts and minds of Hispanic and other immigrant voters.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.