Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Immigration Bill Reflects a Firebrand’s Impact

The politics behind the draconian bill in Arizonia. Even the moderates are backing it. ---Lauren

Published: April 19, 2010

PHOENIX — The Arizona Senate passed one of the most stringent immigration laws in the country on Monday, marking a new level of influence for a Republican state senator who not long ago was seen by many as an eccentric firebrand.

Passage of the law, which would, among other things, allow the authorities to demand proof of legal entry into the United States from anyone suspected of being in the country illegally, testified to the relative lack of political power of Arizona Latinos, and to the hardened views toward illegal immigration among Republican politicians both here and nationally.
As if to underscore how the political landscape will be changed by the law, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who had refused to back the most extreme anti-immigration measures, came out in support of it just hours before its passage.

“I think it is a good tool,” said Mr. McCain, who is being challenged in a primary by a conservative former congressman who is thumping him on immigration. Mr. McCain added that he believed the bill reflected frustration that the federal government had not done enough to secure the border and enforce immigration law.

The state senator who wrote the law, Russell Pearce, had long been considered a politically incorrect embarrassment by more moderate members of his party — often to the delight of his supporters. There was the time in 2007 when he appeared in a widely circulated photograph with a man who was a featured speaker at a neo-Nazi conference. (Mr. Pearce said later he did not know of the man’s affiliation with the group.)

In 2006, he came under fire for speaking admirably of a 1950s federal deportation program called Operation Wetback, and for sending an e-mail message to supporters that included an attachment — inadvertently, he said — from a white supremacist group.

But Mr. Pearce, 62, cannot be dismissed as just the party’s right-wing fringe. As chairman of the Senate’s appropriation committee, he controls whose bills are financed, and he has shown an uncanny knack to capitalize on this border state’s immigration anxiety.

While surveys show immigration is less of a hot-button issue than it was a few years ago, Republican conservatives still care about the issue. In a New York Times/CBS News poll released last week, 82 percent of self-identified Tea Party supporters said illegal immigration was a “very serious” problem.

The nightly news here is filled with stories of raids on drop houses filled with immigrants and drug-related shootouts and home invasions. Mexico’s drug violence has bloodied Nogales, Sonora, across the border from Nogales, Ariz. And just a couple of weeks ago, a southern Arizona rancher was killed on his property by someone the police suspect was involved in smuggling.
“Senator Pearce is the one to articulate things and take bullets and arrows,” said Stan Barnes, a former Republican legislator and political consultant who has supported Mr. Pearce. The issue, he said, “has electrified and energized a great many Arizonans.”

Entire article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/20/us/20immig.html?th&emc=th

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