by Joel Wendland
Mobilized to overturn Arizona's anti-immigrant law (SB 1070), an amazing coalition of labor, civil rights organizations, students, recording artists, healthcare professionals, faith-based groups, professional athletes, Arizona elected officials, city governments around the country, and police groups want swift federal action. Critics charge the law is a draconian legalization of racial profiling to target people who appear to be Latinos. Police organizations have slammed the authors of the law as "fear mongering" and as pushing for ineffective local enforcement of federal laws that will overwhelm police agencies. A combination of education on the law's racist effects and its negative impact on public safety can build pressure on federal authorities to replace SB 1070 (and other laws like it) with comprehensive immigration reform.
Public opinion is complex
While a number of public opinion polls show some six in 10 Americans support SB 1070, additional analysis of the data reveals that only a small portion of that support comes out of right-wing or racist hostility towards immigrants. Xenophobia and racism are palpably dangerous in the current climate, and right-wing leaders of the Republican Party and Tea Party use these influences to promote and cover for their discredited policies. Key portions of their program and ideology are built with the planks of racism.
At the present moment these influences may not and need not be the dominant ideas and forces at work on this issue, however. It is important to avoid the mainstream media's error of attributing support for the law solely to xenophobic or racist sentiments. If the mud of hate can be cleared, we may discover an important chance for the country to move in a new direction on immigration.
Most sentiments about the law seem to center on a desire for urgent federal action on immigration reform. A poll conducted by Lake Research Partners and Public Opinion Strategies in May found that while supporters of the Arizona law are most likely Republicans and supporters of the Tea Party, a significant number do not fit these categories and say they support the law only out of frustration with the lack of federal action on comprehensive reform.
In fact, more than three in four Americans from both major parties and in all geographic regions of the country support comprehensive immigration reform. People view the Arizona law as an unfortunate reaction to decades of federal foot-dragging on reform. Instead of the punitive or enforcement-only responses to immigration on the state or local level favored by the Republican Party, Americans, including a significant majority of Latinos, want comprehensive federal action with four basic parts:
1) Increased security at the border
2) Crack down on employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers
3) Require unauthorized workers to register, undergo background checks and learn English
4) Unauthorized immigrants should get in line for citizenship
Simply put, Americans agree with the immigration reform agenda the Obama administration has repeatedly called for.
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