The Political Herd- Progressive Columnist

In three months people of Hispanic descent across the state of Arizona will become suspects. Recently Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona, a Republican, signed into law a strict and controversial immigration bill that will take effect in ninety days.

The laws will give police officers excessive powers over the rights of people in the state. Labeled draconian by some, the law forces police to question anyone they “reasonably suspect” of being an illegal immigrant. Any person who does not have identification readily at hand can be arrested and tossed into prison for up to six months.

As Eugene Robinson in a Washington Post Op-Ed article correctly asserted, this is “a mandate for racial profiling on a massive scale.”

The question remains: what, under the new law, defines a “reasonable suspect”? With most illegal immigrants coming from Mexico does this term refer to anyone of Mexican descent? Is it anyone who shows Mexican pride with bumper stickers on an old beat-up pickup truck? Is it a recent immigrant who comes to America legally, only to be assaulted by racial profiling?

Once a champion of sensible immigration reform and a denouncer of anti-immigrant sentiment of in his party, the game of politics has consumed John McCain’s sensibilities. Recently Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,” McCain endorsed the bill and said that “The state of Arizona is acting and doing what it feels it needs to do in light of the fact that the federal government is not fulfilling its fundamental responsibility – to secure our borders.”

What is surprising is not that an Arizona republican endorsed this bill, but rather the doublespeak of the slippery politician.

According to the New York Times, in 2004 John McCain opposed an Arizona ballot measure to deny public services to illegal immigrants and require proof of citizenship. During debates in his reelection bid that year, he said that comprehensive immigration reform was needed. But now, with pressures from conservative opponents, John McCain has forgotten his advocacy for smart reform.

Intelligent state politicians like Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon have rightly opposed the law.

He has characterized the law as unconstitutional and has said “It tramples civil rights.” With about a third of the residents of Arizona of Latino descent, the Mayor is defending his constituents, unlike John McCain, who is appealing to the conservative establishment.

Looking beyond the basic American civil rights that the law tramples, the law has economic consequences. Officials in San Francisco, as well as Hispanic-Americans and businesses across the country have called for a boycott of Arizona because of the law. With a strong tourism industry and the enormous buying power of Hispanic-Americans, it is difficult for me to see the benefits of this law in these tough economic times.

There is also the question of the role of the state government versus the role of the federal government. Police officers are given enormous power (and responsibility) to enforce the laws of immigration constructed by the federal government.

The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police has publicly opposed the law because it erodes the trust with the local immigrants, which would deter reports of crime, and distracts them from more pertinent problems of public safety.

Likened by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Los Angeles to “German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques,” this is not smart, comprehensive immigration reform. It’s racist legislation that is unconstitutional and immoral. It needs to be repealed.