The Impact of Arizona’s New Immigration Law On Arizona and the GOP?

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The speculation is now pouring in on the impact of Arizona’s new immigration law — which has been called “draconian” by some analysts. (One immigration attorney who calls it draconian quips “Wake up and smell the teabags..) One of the most interesting predictions comes from an analyst whose audience and bosses may not be too pleased since he didn’t say what they wanted to hear in advance (realizing that in today’s news many news consumers only like news that they already agree with before they hear or read it and opinion that they already agree with since that’s considered objective and if they don’t agree with it it’s part of a partisan slant).

The analyst: Fox News’ Judge Andrew Napolitano who predicts Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision to sign the law will bankrupt the state of Arizona and the Republican party. GO HERE for the full account and a video.

Many on TMV have been offering excellent perspectives on this new law. Here are a few more points to consider:

  • One of my “beats” on the San Diego Union newspaper in the 80s was to cover Ronald Reagan’s immigration reform and amnesty law. The problem there was that companies were not really prosecuted for violating the new law, despite promises that they would. To be sure, there were some showpiece raids, but the scuttlebutt was that companies exerted political pressure in Washington (and Sacramento) so that the law was essentially castrated by poor enforcement. On the other hand, while the law was being unveiled and people were applying for amnesty there were genuine hopes among Republicans that this would help put GOPers on an even playing field with Democrats with Hispanic voters. As someone who did MANY stories on people applying for amnesty, and who knew two families in the mid-west who also were applying, there was a more favorable perception of the Republican party. The reason: whether the law was perfect or not, a Republican government was seen as not viewing illegal immigrants as “illegal aliens” who were painted in a broadbrush by those who wanted a strong crackdown on those not authorized to live here as criminals but as human beings. INS officials at all levels made a point to stress the importance of compassion (a word used often at press conferences and interviews) and enforcement in dealing with the legalization portion of the immigration problem. The Reagan administration got the first part right, but the second part (enforcement) fizzled.
  • The Republican party was decimated in California when Pete Wilson, a highly popular former rising star Mayor of San Diego (backed steadfastly by my former employer newspaper the San Diego Union, which was then owned by Helen Copley) and Senator, backed Proposition 187 when he became Governor (he served 1991-1999). That proposition, approved by 59% of the state’s voters but checkmated in the courts , called for denying nonemergency public services, including education and health care, to the state’s illegal immigrants. Hispanic voters turned against the Republican party in California in droves and it forever altered Wilson’s image which in the early part of his career had been that of a moderate Republican. Napolitano points to California as an example of what the Arizona GOP is likely to face due to this draconian law.
  • The impact of this kind of law will be real, pervasive and felt 24/7. By the time the California law passed I was doing programs in schools. Some of the schools I visited along the border reported students not showing up — and some of the staffers at the time said some of the students were here legally. There were fears of raids at school — which I never heard of taking place at the time — and parents did not want their kids subjected to raids. Meanwhile, some Latinos I talked to who were here legally were highly resentful of the law, which they felt had a racial component — and they firmly believed the California Republican party didn’t like them as a group. These are PERCEPTIONS Arizona and the GOP will now have to deal with.
  • The Arizona law means there will indeed be a big push for the Dems to take up immigration reform in Congress. And to a certain extent, from the Democrats’ standpoint, why not? If they succeed, Hispanic voters will be grateful and Democrats can probably cushion the inevitable 24/7 talk show furor by incorporating much of the bill that John McCain and Ted Kennedy failed to get through Congress (McCain’s position has changed but as always will have a nice sound byte to rationalize it). If they fail, they can still galvanize Hispanic voters to their party because the biggest chunk of opposition in Congress will come from Republicans — and the also inevitable over-the-top sound bytes from some in the new media and cable media about illegals as the battle enfolds. The expected over-the-top rhetoric will likely inspire some angry Latinos to go to the polls as well.
  • In one sense, this resembles the political timing mistake gay activists made with the issue of gay marriage in 2004. Months before the Presidential elections activists pushed the issue of gay marriage into the forfront. The political timing was unwise since it allowed the GOP to take a strong stand against it, thrust it into the headlines, and put it into the courts and into political races. It was one of several factors (some voters angry that gay marriage looked like it was going to be legalized due to the demonstrations, laws and court cases) that helped Bush consolidate his winning coalition. In retrospect, the activists pressing that issue would have been far smarter if they had held off until after the 2004 elections rather than risk giving backlash votes to their opponents. Similarly, the Arizona Governor has now shoved immigration onto the front burner: there will be court challenges (covered by the press), declarations in Congress (reported on by the press), and most assuredly demonstrations which could pit one side against another and get ugly.
  • Many Americans are deeply resentful of illegal immigrants and some of the arguments activists make in favor of them staying here — but the question becomes which party is going to look worse if rhetoric goes over the top and which side will overstep and sway Americans who are not highly emotional one way or another on this issue. The Democrats and left don’t have a message structure as powerful as the GOP’s (Fox News, talk shows, and many big-circulation blogs — which taken together can drive the mainstream media assignment page if the clamor is loud enough on an issue or assertion). So the danger is greater to the GOP that some rhetoric used by those opposing any immigration bill will offend Hispanics than that the Democrats and activists will say something that whips up more voters to flock to the GOP. They key to watch: demonstrations. Either side could blow it there.
  • Unless the dynamics change, the biggest danger now is to the GOP: it could lose Hispanic voters for many years despite the earnest efforts of some Republicans such as George W. Bush, the desire of Karl Rove to increase the Hispanic vote for Republicans, and the many efforts of the Beta version of John McCain (the version that has vanished in recent years). Remember: the whole political narrative so far is that Republicans have more enthusiastic voters on their side for 2010 already. If the GOP kicks one of the many political mines planted in the political minefield into which it is now walking, that calculation will have to be revised since the Democrats will be able to count on some voters making sure they vote: those Hispanic voters who are outraged by a)the Arizona law and b)by any over-the-top, high profile comments coming from Republicans criticizing illegal immigrants or characterizing them in a broad-brush way.

    In the end it’ll come down to this: Yes. Most Americans don’t like the present situation. They want some kind of change.

    So — as the debate now unfolds over whether the Arizona law is draconian or common sense — which side will overstep? Which side will have the bigger “silent majority?”

    If the experience of Republicans in California is any indication, the GOP has more to lose now than the Democrats as this issue noisily unfolds.

    The copyrighted cartoon by David Fitzsimmons, The Arizona Star, is licensed to run on TMV. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. All rights reserved.

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