Immigration conflagration: Even Republicans are questioning Arizona's new law

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010; 8:02 AM

Arizona's new immigration law is one heckuva tough sell for its defenders.

After all, even some top Republicans are openly expressing qualms about a measure in which police can question anyone they "reasonably suspect" of being an illegal immigrant.

Boycott threats are mounting as the left denounces the measure--signed by Jan Brewer, the GOP governor who succeeded Janet Napolitano--and angry Hispanics could give the Democratic Party a boost.

Now supporters have settled on their first line of defense, which we'll get to in a second.

At the federal level, immigration is proving to be as intractable as tampering with Social Security. George W. Bush tried hard, with John McCain's help, to pass a moderate compromise and utterly failed. Barack Obama promised to change the immigration system, but despite a recent two-step by Harry Reid, it still seems unlikely that anything will happen until 2011.

One sticking point is that no matter how much people resent illegal immigrants--and I believe that frustration cuts across party lines--it's simply not realistic that U.S. authorities are going to track down and kick out 12 million of them. But to acknowledge that is to risk charges of "amnesty." It's a highly emotional issue that defies simple solutions.

The liberal anger at the new state law is summed up in this Gene Robinson column:

"Arizona's draconian new immigration law is an abomination -- racist, arbitrary, oppressive, mean-spirited, unjust. About the only hopeful thing that can be said is that the legislation, which goes so outrageously far that it may well be unconstitutional."

Politico rounds up reaction on the right, most tellingly from a tea party favorite:

"Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio said in a statement Tuesday that he fears the law puts the Arizona's police force in an 'incredibly difficult position.' 'It could also unreasonably single out people who are here legally, including many American citizens,' Rubio said. 'Throughout American history and throughout this administration we have seen that when government is given an inch it takes a mile.'

"Rubio's criticism was quickly followed up by a fellow Floridian, former Gov. Jeb Bush. In an interview with POLITICO, Bush said the law is not 'the proper approach.' 'I think it creates unintended consequences,' he said. 'It's difficult for me to imagine how you're going to enforce this law. It places a significant burden on local law enforcement and you have civil liberties issues that are significant as well.'

"Much of the criticism is coming from associates of former President George W. Bush. 'I wished they hadn't passed it,' Bush strategist Karl Rove told a crowd of 500 at a senior community center in Florida. 'I think there is going to be some constitutional problems with the bill.' At the end of the day, he said, 'I think there are better tools.' "

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