In the weekend after the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state of Arizona for pre-empting federal immigration policy, political leaders were all over the national media talking about the issue. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus Immigration Task Force and chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force, sparred on ABC’s “This Week.” with Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus, Pushing his own immigration reform proposal, Rep. Gutierrez said the country needs to think beyond just enforcing the border. He made the point that 40% of undocumented immigrants didn’t smuggle themselves across the U.S,-Mexico border–they came here on legal visas and overstayed them. But Rep. Bilbray countered with, “why can’t we give enforcement a chance?”
ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper brought up the fact that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer told a lie when she said that the majority of border-crossers are drug smugglers. Rep. Bilbray admitted that statement was incorrect, but was sympathetic to Brewer’s “perception” of immigrants as criminals, saying it was true of many residents of the southwest. (OK…so he’s saying that “perception” is an excuse for public officials to misconstrue reality?)
Over at CNN, White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod said the president was fully committed to immigration reform, despite being an issue that “lends itself to demagoguery” and it being a tough election year. He said the American people are looking to the federal government to take action, but that requires the buy-in of the Republican party.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder riled up people all over again by telling the public on CBS’s Face The Nation that it’s possible Arizona will see a second lawsuit concerning SB 1070, if it turns out police are using racial profiling in its enforcement. The current lawsuit is over the issue of “pre-emption” of federal jurisdiction over immigration.
The lawsuit is making many politicians on both sides of the aisle uncomfortable. In an important election year, Democrats are worried that the thorny issue will hurt their chances of being reelected. The New York Times reports that at the annual National Governors Association meeting, Democratic governors were bemoaning the fact that immigration has taken precedence over the economy. (Of course, as the President said in his speech, the two go hand in hand.)
“I might have chosen both a different tack and a different time,” said Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. of Colorado, a Democrat who was facing a tough fight for re-election and pulled out of the race earlier this year. “This is an issue that divides us politically, and I’m hopeful that their strategy doesn’t do that in a way that makes it more difficult for candidates to get elected, particularly in the West.”
The state leaders would prefer to gloss over the issue of immigration until they are firmly in their seats. But many local urban leaders, who tend to both reap the benefits and bear the cost of immigrants, say the nation can’t wait. Last month the U.S. Conference of Mayors issued a resolution supporting comprehensive federal reform that “preempts any state actions to assert authority over federal immigration law” and calls for federal money to be channeled to states and localities that “disproportionately [shoulder] the costs of the current broken immigration system.”
It might be making politicians squirm in their seats, but immigration seems to be edging towards a breaking point.