There were mixed reactions last Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down most of Arizona's strict immigration law while unanimously upholding a provision allowing state and local police to check the immigration status of those they stop for other reasons. Illegal immigration advocates immediately went into cardiac arrest.
"Racial profiling!" the illegal immigration advocates screamed. "We're turning into a police state," and so on. This hysterical overreaction shows how polarizing the immigration issue will be in this year's presidential election. President Obama reacted quickly by ordering U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents not to cooperate with their Arizona counterparts. So does our chief law enforcement officer believe in enforcing our nation's immigration laws, or not?
The Supreme Court ruling raised difficult questions for Arizona policemen. How long must they wait for federal officers to respond after they identify an illegal alien, and how do they avoid being sued for racial profiling by American citizens and legal immigrants?
"We're going to get sued if we do (ask someone for papers), and we're going to get sued (for not following the law) if we don't," said Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, whose territory covers much of southern Arizona's porous border with Mexico. Sheriff Dupnik wouldn't be facing this dilemma, however, if the Feds were carrying out their responsibility to control illegal immigration along our borders.
Instead, President Obama decided to ingratiate himself with Hispanic voters by unilaterally rewriting U.S. immigration laws to permit young illegals to stay here even though he declined to do so two years ago after the so-called DREAM Act failed in Congress. But that was then and this is now, an election year when millions of Latino votes are at stake. "He (Obama) needs a big Hispanic vote and this is a perfect pander," wrote nationally syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.
"I sympathize with the obvious humanitarian motives of the DREAM Act," Kraut- hammer continued (and so do I), but the President's unilateral decision "offers illegal immigrants the prospect that if they can hide long enough, their children will one day enjoy the bounties of American life . . . (and) the case for compassion and fairness is hardly as clear-cut as advertised." For example, what about those who wait years in order to emigrate legally to the U.S.?
In other words, by pandering to Hispanics the president created a magnet for increased illegal immigration, just as former President Reagan did with an ill-considered amnesty in 1986. Millions of illegal immigrants flocked to the U.S. and that's when the current immigration crisis started.
But let's not exaggerate the importance of the Latino vote. I read an AP story last week that said 25 percent of Nevada's electorate is Hispanic. Not true. Although more than 25 percent of Nevada's population is Hispanic, they accounted for less than ten percent of the state's voters in 2008. As I've written before, many Republican businessmen see illegal immigrants as cheap labor while Democrat politicians look at them and see millions of potential voters. It's not an uplifting story. Stay tuned.
• Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal's senior political columnist.