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A Times Editorial

Arizona acts to protect itself

Arizona passed a law to protect its citizens from illegal aliens, and given the reaction of some, you would think the Third Reich had risen again and police would soon be incarcerating minorities for the fun of it.

A dismayed President Barack Obama is having the Justice Department investigate the possibility of getting the law overturned, Mexican President Felipe Calderon is threatening to end all trade with the state, San Francisco is talking about a boycott, and some innovative protesters smeared refried beans on the state Capitol building in the shape of a swastika.

Is it the position of these people that Arizona has no right to protect its residents from the same fate suffered by Robert Krentz, 58, an Arizona rancher shot and killed by someone whose footprints were followed by police to the Mexican border?

It was almost surely an illegal alien who fired the shots, but while this incident prompted the state's Legislature to act, lawmakers have long been concerned about all kinds of costs posed by the state's 460,000 illegal aliens, including $2 billion a year spent educating their children.

So the state now has a law — supported by 70 percent of the population — that allows local police to arrest illegal aliens who can then be thrown in jail for up to six months, fined $2,500 and turned over to federal officials for deportation. The grounds for arrest are suspicious behavior and failure to produce documentation, and that's part of why critics think the law could result in the wholesale discrimination against people whose only crime is that they look Hispanic.

It's also said the law will keep illegals from cooperating with police on investigations, would divert police from focusing on more serious crimes, would be expensive to enforce and is illegal itself because illegal immigration is a federal offense.

My own view is that the law is far from the best approach. But I can't imagine a state cannot legally act to try to protect its citizens when the federal government is flubbing the job. Some point out that the state law duplicates instead of pre-empts federal law. And the state says it will make sure police are trained in acting only on suspicious behavior — running away might be a hint of something wrong.

What's really needed is for the federal government to crack down on employers hiring illegal aliens, who would then return to their native country on their own. Those with low skills are driving down wages for other low-skilled Americans, and according to a study by the Heritage Foundation, do not pay enough taxes to make up for the government benefits they receive.

Well, give them amnesty, says our president, as if they will then climb up the economic ladder. According to Heritage and scholars at the University of Illinois and the Manhattan Institute, the evidence from studies of legal Hispanic immigrants is that they won't. All amnesty does is announce to the world that you can come here illegally if you want, and after a while, you can even get citizenship. The amnesty of President Ronald Reagan in 1986 — which I supported— ended up tripling the number of illegals in this country.

But isn't it just bigotry to want the illegal aliens to go back to Mexico? I long ago talked with blue collar Hispanics who did not want job competition from illegals that had not played by the rules as they had, and a Zogby poll confirms that 52 percent of Hispanics think illegals should be sent home and only 34 percent favor amnesty legislation.

I don't think Hispanics are bigoted against Hispanics, and I think ad hominem attacks on issues of this kind are pathetic. What is also pathetic is a federal government that refuses to act in the interests of its citizenry but does take pride in morally superior blather.

Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers, is a columnist living in Colorado.

Arizona acts to protect itself 05/02/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 30, 2010 7:05pm]

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