The Truth About Arizona’s New Immigration Law

David Sirota

Our most important fundraising drive of the year is now underway. After you're done reading, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to ensure that In These Times can continue publishing in the year ahead.

Upon signing Arizona’s new statute requiring police officers to demand citizenship papers from anyone they believe is in the country illegally, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer last week claimed the bill is not designed to tolerate racial discrimination or racial profiling” of Latinos.

GOP guru Rove acknowledges that the law aims to let police use racial and ethnic cues to profile individuals.

Responding to critics who say the legislation does just that, she, like many conservatives, insisted, I don’t know what an illegal immigrant looks like” – the implication being that Republicans are colorblind.

It sounds reassuring, but methinks she doth protest too much, and I say that because one of the Republican Party’s leading law enforcement voices has already disclosed the true objective of precisely this kind of legislation. 

That seminal admission came in November 2001, when the emotional aftermath of 9/11 momentarily removed politicians’ rhetorical filters. There on the floor of Congress, GOP Rep. Scott McInnis delivered an address about the need for profiling for the national security of this country.”

Brandishing his past experience as a police officer, he implored lawmakers to quit being politically correct” and let authorities make ethnic background a legitimate component” of law enforcement investigations – just as Arizona’s new statute allows.

Insurance companies profile for risk. That is what I am asking that we continue to do – we need to profile for risk,” he thundered, adding that using ethnicity as a risk factor is very legitimate – I think it is smart.”

In other words, we should do to civil rights what insurance firms have done to, say, healthcare – namely, deny people rights and privileges based on their ascribed characteristics.

Had McInnis’ career been buried in the political graveyard, Republican apologists could easily pretend his kind of bigotry is irrelevant to today’s fears that the Arizona law will both encourage prejudice and appear in other states. But McInnis is now the Republican gubernatorial frontrunner in Colorado, and this week he became the first major GOP candidate in America to pledge to replicate Arizona’s statute in his state if elected in 2010.

Considering the candidate’s pedigree as a former state House Majority Leader and six-term congressman, and considering his views on what a law like Arizona’s is really all about, McInnis’ promise is not an inconsequential outburst from some nobody, nor is it likely to be just an isolated campaign plank in an unimportant backwater. On the contrary, this is a far-reaching signal from the national Republican Party establishment, for it comes from that establishment’s hand-picked poster boy in a state that GOP guru Karl Rove said will be ground zero” in the upcoming elections.

For his part, Rove acknowledges that the Arizona law aims to let police use racial and ethnic cues to profile individuals – exactly the way McInnis envisions. 

(Police) are going to (target suspects) on the basis of reasonable suspicion that these people are here illegally,” he said, like they’re driving a car with a Mexican license plate or they can’t speak English” – in short, cultural metrics that even anti-immigration activist Tom Tancredo has said could unduly result in people getting pulled over because you look like you should be pulled over.”

Such constitutional atrocities, of course, don’t bother the ideologically conservative Rove – instead, the reason Rove says I wished (Arizona) hadn’t passed” the bill is because it could devastate Republicans at the polls.

First and foremost a partisan animal, Rove understands that the more Republican standard-bearers like McInnis opine about Arizona’s statute, and the more voters learn about those standard-bearers’ past statements, the more voters will see that the GOP is dishonestly masking institutionalized bigotry in seemingly laudable odes to racial neutrality. That revelation may invigorate the small racist vote, but Rove knows that the truth could also repulse the Silent Majority – and perhaps sink his party for good.

Support progressive media

As a nonprofit, reader-supported publication, In These Times depends on donations from people like you to continue publishing. Our final, end-of-year fundraising drive accounts for nearly half of our total budget. That’s why this fundraising drive is so important.

If you are someone who depends on In These Times to learn what is going on in the movements for social, racial, environmental and economic justice, the outcome of this fundraising drive is important to you as well.

How many readers like you are able to contribute between now and December 31 will determine the number of stories we can report, the resources we can put into each story and how many people our journalism reaches. If we come up short, it will mean making difficult cuts at time when we can least afford to do so.

If it is within your means, please make a tax-deductible donation today, to ensure that In These Times can continue publishing in the year ahead.

David Sirota is an awardwinning investigative journalist and an In These Times senior editor. He served as speech writer for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign. Follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.
Subscribe and Save 66%

Less than $1.67 an issue