Arizona Immigration Law Reveals Republican Split On Immigration
The Arizona immigration law is once again bringing to light an underlying tension on the entire immigration issue among Republicans:
LOS ANGELES — Republican lawmakers and candidates are increasingly divided over illegal immigration — torn between the need to attract Latino support, especially at the ballot box, and rallying party members who support tougher action.
Arizona’s new measure, which requires that the police check the documents of anyone they stop or detain whom they suspect of being in the country illegally, has forced politicians far and wide to take a stance. But unlike in Washington, where a consensus exists among establishment Republicans, the fault lines in the states — where the issue is even more visceral and immediate — are not predictable.
Conservative Republican governors like Jim Gibbons of Nevada, Robert F. McDonnell of Virginia and Rick Perry of Texas have criticized the Arizona law. But some more moderate Republicans, like Tom Campbell, who is running in the party’s Senate primary in California, have supported it.
In states with hotly contested elections, several Republican candidates are finding their positions mobile, reflecting the delicacy of the issue and a growing body of polls that suggest many voters support the Arizona law.
In Florida, for instance, Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is running for governor, now says he approves of the law, though he called it “far out” two weeks ago; Marco Rubio, the state’s Republican Senate nominee, has also shifted his stance.
State Republicans now find themselves in a balancing act, trying to seize a moment of Congressional stalemate to demonstrate leadership while not repelling voters on either side of the debate, a challenge that is particularly daunting for those in a primary fight.
“I think we need to be very careful about immigration,” said Karl Rove, the former adviser to President George W. Bush. “I applaud Arizona for taking action, but I think the rhetoric on all sides ought to be lowered.”
Mr. Rove and other strategists who worked for Mr. Bush were proponents of an immigration overhaul that included a path to legal status.
That bill, widely derided as “amnesty” by movement conservatives and talk-radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity despite the fact that it wasn’t all that different from the immigration bill signed into law by President Reagan twenty years earlier. It was also the last serious effort on a national level to deal with immigration legislatively, rather than treating it as the political wedge issue that it is today.
The problems that Republican face on this issue are two-fold.
In states with significant Hispanic populations like Florida, Texas, and California, taking a hard line stand against immigration poses the risk that the GOP will lose support in a fast-growing part of the population. That’s why, for example, you’re unlikely to see anything like the Arizona law being proposed by a California Republican, and why even the conservative Governor of Texas has said that the law is “not right” for his state.
Additionally, the GOP’s ties to the business community, especially small businesses, are likely to make it difficult for the party to fully support enforcement and employment verification measures that increase costs for business. E-verify type programs are not a significant problem for large businesses to implement, for example, but the administrative burden of such programs on small businesses, which is one explanation for the extent to which the Chamber of Commerce departs from orthodox conservativism on the issue of immigration.
In a rational political environment, this issue would be dealt with the way every contentious issue is dealt with, through compromise; perhaps something along these lines. This is hardly a rational environment, however, and any attempt at compromise is likely to be instantly denounced by both extremes. Unless it finds a solution to it’s divide, however, the GOP is likely to find itself left behind.