The Democratic hypocrisy on Arizona immigration law

In his column today, George Will makes a really good observation, as he is prone to do:

“Misguided and irresponsible” is how Arizona’s new law pertaining to illegal immigration is characterized by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She represents San Francisco, which calls itself a “sanctuary city,” an exercise in exhibitionism that means it will be essentially uncooperative regarding enforcement of immigration laws. Yet as many states go to court to challenge the constitutionality of the federal mandate to buy health insurance, scandalized liberals invoke 19th-century specters of “nullification” and “interposition,” anarchy and disunion. Strange.

Does seem rather hypocritical. Also, in today’s print edition, Michael Gerson and George Will were published right next to each other — two conservatives with decidedly different takes on the Arizona law. Unfortunately, Gerson does not fare well as a matter of comparison. Here’s Gerson:

Under the law, police must make a “reasonable attempt” to verify the immigration status of people they encounter when there is a “reasonable suspicion” they might be illegal. Those whose citizenship can’t be verified can be arrested. But how is such reasonable suspicion aroused? The law forbids the use of race or ethnicity as the “sole” basis for questioning. So what are the other telltale indicators?

Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the law, looked flustered when asked during a news conference the obvious question of how illegal immigrants might be identified. “I do not know what an illegal immigrant looks like,” Brewer replied. “I can tell you that I think that there are people in Arizona that assume they know what an illegal immigrant looks like. I don’t know if they know that for a fact or not.” Yet Brewer has ordered Arizona police to be trained in the warning signs of illegality — signs that she cannot describe. There is a reason no Arizona official has publicly detailed these standards — because the descriptions would sound like racial stereotyping. And probably would be.

Suffice to say, I think it’s quite the canard to say that defining “reasonable” here must lead to racial stereotyping. George Will sounds much more, well, reasonable, on this same point:

But Arizona’s statute is not presumptively unconstitutional merely because it says that police officers are required to try to make “a reasonable attempt” to determine the status of a person “where reasonable suspicion exists” that the person is here illegally. The fact that the meaning of “reasonable” will not be obvious in many contexts does not make the law obviously too vague to stand. The Bill of Rights — the Fourth Amendment — proscribes “unreasonable searches and seizures.” What “reasonable” means in practice is still being refined by case law — as is that amendment’s stipulation that no warrants shall be issued “but upon probable cause.” There has also been careful case-by-case refinement of the familiar and indispensable concept of “reasonable suspicion.”

Brewer says, “We must enforce the law evenly, and without regard to skin color, accent or social status.” Because the nation thinks as Brewer does, airport passenger screeners wand Norwegian grandmothers. This is an acceptable, even admirable, homage to the virtue of “evenness” as we seek to deter violence by a few, mostly Middle Eastern, young men.

But lest he accuse me of being “epistemically closed,” I will note that Julian Sanchez has a much more trenchant criticism of Will’s column that is worth considering.

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