GOP takes low road on immigration

Republicans in the state Assembly, still high-fiving each other for stopping Jerry Brown’s one proposal that actually made sense (ending redevelopment agencies), congratulated themselves last week for their tough stand on illegal immigration, another foolish decision that flies in the face of the GOP’s free-market rhetoric. Several Assembly members stood on the Capitol steps to embrace a watered-down version of Arizona’s controversial anti-illegal-immigration law.

Predictably, Assembly Bill 26 failed the next morning in the Judiciary Committee, but the Assembly members were able to preen before the TV cameras and play to their base voters. I found the news conference to be crass, illogical and counterproductive. During the rally, the Republicans featured families who were victimized by illegal-immigrant criminals, thus making the not-so-subtle suggestion that Mexican immigrants are a danger to us all. Never mind that crime among Mexican immigrants is lower than crime among the general population – it’s not until the second generation, after the newcomers’ kids are exposed to American values, that the crime rates soar.

The lawmakers at the news conference called for more government spending, tougher police crackdowns, broader forfeiture measures (i.e., the cops can impound your car if you are here illegally), and more punitive regulations targeted at California’s already hard-pressed businesses.

The rally, attended by OC Assembly members Diane Harkey of Dana Point, Don Wagner of Irvine and Allan Mansoor of Costa Mesa, along with Steve Knight of Palmdale, Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks, Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, Mike Morrell of Rancho Cucamonga and Brian Jones of Santee, had an old-fashioned feel, and not in a good way. It was if the state’s massive demographic changes had passed by these lawmakers, and they had no sense of how their rhetoric might sound outside the small world of GOP voters.

AB26 never included the most noxious provision of the Arizona’s SB1070 – and which was blocked by a federal judge – the requirement that police ask for immigration documents if they suspect that a person they stop is here illegally. That would encourage racial profiling for obvious reasons – people of Latino background would be suspect, whereas others won’t be. Police will either engage in profiling or adopt the TSA approach of stopping and harassing everyone. Either tactic is bad.

I’m tired already of all the checkpoints, police cameras, official paperwork, X-ray machines and ID checks. None of this protects any of us, but it does make Americans more sheep-like as government agents exert more control over our lives. Should conservatives, who claim to value freedom and limited government, be pushing this agenda?

While the really bad stuff isn’t in AB26, that doesn’t matter. This proposal was about symbolism. No one thought the bill had any chance of getting to the next step. This was about sending a message to Republican voters. Unfortunately, it broadcast the wrong message to everyone in California.

I was annoyed by the sign, held by an official rally participant, stating that she was happy to show her papers anytime. The featured speaker was Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, the main backer of SB1070. His involvement made it clear that these Republicans support that law.

Pearce’s rhetoric was harsh, as he hammered businesses for putting “profits over patriotism.” He couldn’t understand why the law was controversial, and said the law separated us into two camps: law keepers and law breakers. It’s clear what category he would put me in.

Despite the Assembly members’ insistence that the state needs more legal immigration, the law they supported did nothing to advance those empty words. It doesn’t address any of the points that defenders of the free market ought to understand.

For starters, the legitimate problems of human trafficking and crime that AB26’s advocates discussed are exacerbated by restrictive immigration laws. Poor people want to come to the United States, mostly to work. It takes so many years to do it the right way that they opt to violate the law. The tougher the U.S. authorities become, the more lucrative it is to smuggle people across the border, which means that the drug cartels and other certified bad guys become more brazen and violent. This is how all black markets work.

Believers in the free marketplace would propose reforms that provide a legal and easy path for willing sellers (laborers) to connect with willing buyers (businesses), either through expanded immigration quotas or a guest-worker program. Believers in limited government would not want to erode civil liberties or expand government power. They would know that business owners can’t control everything that happens in their midst and would not want to make them subject to fines and arrest. They would know that this law imposes more regulations, lawsuits and government inspections.

Latino voter registration is 18 percent Republican, and the state GOP has about 31 percent of all voters statewide. This is a huge problem. I’m not arguing that Latino voters want open borders. But the tone of the news conference highlights what is wrong with the party these days. The GOP needs to express its views in a manner that doesn’t, as the former party chairman recently put it, tell Latino voters that it wants to send their grandmothers back to Mexico.

Republicans – the only serious alternative to a Democratic Party that wants to expand government and raise taxes – need to express a positive agenda that connects with the hopes and aspirations of all Californians, immigrants included. They have a good case to make given how the Democratic agenda of regulation, control, union power, taxation and excessive environmentalism is making it hard for working people to move their way up the economic ladder. It’s OK to make a case for border reform, but who in their right mind thinks that it helps to champion the divisive Arizona approach as the model?

It’s frustrating, but what do you expect from officials who just recently sided with redevelopment bureaucrats who abuse eminent domain and against small property owners?

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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