The Justice Department sued Arizona on Tuesday over the state's extreme effort to crack down on illegal immigration. There are plans for economic boycotts, and Arizona's guidelines for enforcing the law only confirm that it will promote racial profiling. This sort of controversy is the last thing Florida needs, yet state Republicans are determined to repeat Arizona's mistakes and turn the Sunshine State into the next battleground over immigration.
Encouraged by the leading Republican candidates for governor, some Republican state lawmakers already are planning to draft legislation that mirrors portions of Arizona's law. The Arizona law, which takes effect later this month, has a number of offensive provisions. It requires police to verify the immigration status of anyone they stop for any other reason, and it leaves them vulnerable to lawsuits if they do not. Imagine setting such an ultimatum in Florida's melting pot and essentially requiring all minorities to carry proof of their legal status with them at all times.
The Arizona law's supporters contend it will not promote unconstitutional racial profiling. But police can stop someone for the thinnest of reasons and demand proof of citizenship. And training on the new law reflects how difficult it would be to fairly enforce. For example, police are being told to consider if a person speaks poor English, appears nervous or rides in an overcrowded vehicle. That could describe a group of white teen-aged girls riding around on a Friday night in the suburbs, but don't bet on them being stopped and questioned about their immigration status. Police also can target known areas where illegal immigrants look for work. Does that mean everyone who visits a small grocery in the early morning may have to produce their passport?
Yet Florida's leading Republican candidates for governor, Attorney General Bill McCollum and health care executive Rick Scott, are tripping over themselves to support Arizona's law (Scott is wrongly claiming in a television ad that McCollum opposes the law). McCollum is even helping draft legislation with state lawmakers such as Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart. Snyder recently described the effort as a human rights issue that will protect undocumented immigrants from cheating employers and criminals. That turns logic on its head. In fact, it makes any member of a minority group a potential suspect.
The frustration with illegal immigration is understandable in Arizona, where the border with Mexico is far from secure. But that does not excuse such a legally suspect response, and Florida's immigration issues are different. Immigration is a federal issue, as the Justice Department argues in its lawsuit, and what is needed is a comprehensive response from Washington. President Barack Obama recently pleaded with Congress to pursue a balanced approach that includes both increased border security and a strategy for dealing with more than 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, but no one expects federal action in this election year.
Voters should pay attention to candidates' positions on immigration. In Washington, Congress needs members who are willing to embrace a comprehensive approach in a bipartisan fashion. In Tallahassee, the last thing Floridians need is a governor and Legislature determined to erode constitutional rights and pit residents against each other.