Blog & Updates
As the Facts Come Out about Arizona, the Politicians Become More Shrill
July 12, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger
The more the press examines the premise behind Arizona's SB 1070 law, the more it looks to be one of those "emperor-has-no-clothes" stories. On Sunday, Dana Milbank, of the Washington Post devoted his column to examining the claims being made by Arizona's politicians about crime in Arizona and comparing them to a reality that can be verified.
ImmPolitic first wrote about the verifiable reality in Arizona back on April 29th and May 5th. Since then, the mainstream press has increasingly picked up on the fact that claims being made by supporters of SB 1070 contrast sharply with Arizona crime statistics and with the observations of border community law enforcement agencies. In response, Arizona politicians have made more spectacular (but un-verifiable) claims.
Among others, Milbank singles out Senator John McCain, who might be excused for not bothering to check out a claim repeated in several news sources when he said that Phoenix is the "number two kidnapping capital of the world." As this exhaustive PolitiFact article notes, kidnapping statistics aren't really kept in many other cities around the world, and kidnapping experts can only speculate where Phoenix might rank on a world list—somewhere far below number 2.
Governor Jan Brewer made the claim that "the majority" of people crossing the border illegally are "coming here and they're bringing drugs and they're terrorizing families." Milbank notes that, since October 1st of last year, 170,000 undocumented immigrants have been apprehended in the Border Patrol's Tucson sector. In the same period, there have been 1,100 drug prosecutions filed. Even assuming all of those prosecutions are of undocumented immigrants, six-tenths of one percent does not make a majority in the real world.
With the press persistently calling into question these and other claims, Governor Brewer has reacted by becoming more shrill. She recently told a local television station that "law enforcement agencies" have been finding people who have been beheaded in the desert, presumably by people crossing into the country illegally.
There has been no evidence to support this claim—certainly not from "law enforcement agencies."
Milbank notes the importance of all these falsehoods:
[t]his matters, because it means the entire premise of the Arizona immigration law is a fallacy. Arizona officials say they've had to step in because federal officials aren't doing enough to stem increasing border violence. The scary claims of violence, in turn, explain why the American public supports the Arizona crackdown.
In other words, the Arizona law, and public support for it, are predicated on the lies being told by Arizona's politicians.
While the press has been more willing to challenge the assertions of our so-called leaders on this issue, there is a story in the July 12th New York Times reporting that some Democratic governors, gathered in Boston for a meeting of the National Governors Association, would rather run from the problem. With governors all gathered in Boston, they have an opportunity to challenge their colleague Jan Brewer for shamelessly whipping up people's fears on false pretenses. Instead, they have expressed concern about the Obama Administration's legal challenge to the Arizona law.
Some Democratic governors complained about the timing of the government's lawsuit, coming as re-election campaigns are beginning to heat up. Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee said of the Justice Department's lawsuit,
“Maybe you do that when you’re strong and not when there’s an election looming out there.”
Last I checked, the Constitution doesn't get suspended in an election year. The Administration is not deliberately timing the suit for election season; the timing was determined by the fact that the Arizona law goes into effect at the end of this month, and the Administration is claiming that the state law unconstitutionally challenges federal authority on immigration maters.
In any event, even if the Justice Department had not filed suit, Democrats would be faced with a debate on immigration during this campaign season. Republicans have decided that they will (again) take a harsh stance on immigrants and immigration, and they will point to their hard line as a weapon against their opponents. As Frank Sharry noted in the July 11th Washington Post,
Democrats should make the inevitable election-year fight over illegal immigration about comprehensive immigration reform -- not just about the Arizona law or lawsuit. They should lean into the debate rather than run from it, calling out Republicans for blocking a solution that strengthens border security, turns off the jobs magnet and makes sure the immigrants here are legal taxpayers.
If Democrats want this issue to go away, they'd be better off doing everything they can to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Until the immigration system is fixed and we deal realistically with immigrants who are living and working in this country illegally, immigration hardliners on the right will try to use the public's frustration with lack of Congressional action to their political advantage. Meanwhile, immigrants, their friends, families and supporters, their pastors and rabbis, their employers, and their shop stewards will continue to press for comprehensive reform in thousands of forums across the country.
Some Democrats may want to run from this problem, but there is no way they can hide from it.
Image by Flickr user John Gevers.