Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson

Apr 27, 2010

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson was online to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.

Read his column Arizona's new immigration law is an act of vengeance in which Gene writes: "Arizona's draconian new immigration law is an abomination -- racist, arbitrary, oppressive, mean-spirited, unjust. About the only hopeful thing that can be said is that the legislation, which Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed Friday, goes so outrageously far that it may well be unconstitutional."

Welcome, everyone. Actually, in solidarity with the U.S. citizens and legal residents who will face state-sanctioned discrimination because of that awful new law in Arizona, I should say: Bienvenidos! As those of you who read this morning's column already know, I think the state's draconian new immigration law, which mandates racial profiling, is an abomination. I wish some of the Tea Party folks would join me in condemning this outrageous big-government infringement of individual rights, but maybe they believe the rights of some Americans are worth protecting and the rights of other Americans aren't. Let's get started.

Both my parents are members of the Obijway tribe and they were a bit older and remember the days of "the day pass" when if you wanted to leave the reservation for any reason, even to visit a hospital, you have to convince a federal official working there to issue you a pass. You had to give a complete description of where you were going and why and he could easily say no without any cause. If he did issue a day pass, there was a specific time on it that you had to be back on the reservation by and you could be arrested and beaten if you were late. It's a sad part of our history. South Africans based many of their Apartheid laws on how American reservations were run. So forgive me if I roll my eyes with I hear pundits describe the new "papers, please" law in Arizona as "not something that happens in America."

Thank you for the history lesson. It's something that should never happen in America again.

Greetings and thanks for the article. Your reference to the silence of the Tea Party Movement on Arizona's new immigration law is very interesting. Can you say more? Does this attitude expose what the TPM is really about?

That question should be posed to the Tea Party crowd. They say that they see Big Government taking away our individual rights. Well, in Arizona, the government will have the right to stop you, and interrogate you, and demand to see your "papers," even if you are a born-and-bred American citizen who looks "suspiciously" like an illegal immigrant -- which means, a citizen who looks Mexican. Why isn't this a Tea Party cause celebre?

Your piece today concedes that Arizona faces a huge problem with illegal immigration, and concedes that the Federal Government has failed to address this problem. Why, then, do you have to smear the new law and its supporters as "racist" and "xenophobic"? If you think the law won't work, that's one thing, but since you admit that there's a strong rationale for some kind of response, why suggest (with no evidence) bad motives on the part of the new law's supporters?

The law is racist because blond-haired, blue-eyed Arizonans won't be stopped on suspicion of being illegals. Only Latinos will be. As for the xenophobic part, I've been to Arizona to report on immigration issues and I've met a couple of the big proponents of this bill, and I stand by the characterization.

What's your take on Tancredo's unexpected (to me, at least) resistance to AZ's Immigration Bill? Given his previous statements, you'd think he'd be in ecstasy over it. Why the opposition to it now? Thanks--

You're referring to former congressman Tom Tancredo, who I thought was as anti-immigrant as anyone could be -- but who doesn't approve of the Arizona law. All I can say is that if it's too extreme for Tancredo, that should settle the issue.

Stick around for a chat with Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) at 3 pm about the Arizona immigration conflict.

Mr. Robinson, So, what does "moderate" immigration reform look like? The Kennedy/McCain law that died a couple of years ago in Congress didn't address the major problem: border security. We cannot consider any sort of path to citizenship for current illegal immigrants until we secure the border. I'm not for jailing or deporting people, but to allow widespread amnesty without doing a better job of securing the border is just a recipe for disaster and will only embolden more illegal immigrants to attempt to cross.

This is always one of the problems -- we can't do X until we do Y, and we can't do Y until we do Z, and that can't happen until A and B are fixed. I do not believe that any American president, from either party, is going to believe that it is in the strategic interest of the United States to build an impregnable fortress-like wall along the entire border with Mexico. So I doubt that the border will ever be totally secure. It would be more secure if there were a workable system through which Mexicans could legally immigrate, but from the point of view of someone who wants to come north, that looks hopeless. Meanwhile, we all know that there are millions of people here without documents, and we're not going to find all those people and send them home. So with the exception of the few who are criminals or otherwise undesirable, why not give them a "path to citizenship," which is what amnesty will be called? I mean, it's already the case that people who come here illegally believe they're going to be able to find a way to stay. Why would something like Kennedy/McCain make a difference?

My daughter has worked in Ireland, France and currently in England. In each, to get a work permit, she had to submit financial statements, a letter from IRS that she had filed income tax returns for the last 3 years. This has to be done every two years. No business will hire anyone without the work permit. Why not here?

Well, that's a good question. Illegal migrants would not come to this country unless they believed they could find work. If nobody hired them, they'd go home.

I just read your article on Arizona's Act of Vengeance and I have been watching closely what others have to say about it... Since I am of Mexican descent and a true Arizonan (born and raised) I have been accused of being emotional when responding to those who are in favor of this legislation. Today on the morning show, The View.. Ms. Barbara Walters said that 70% of Arizonans are in favor of this law and she never quite said where she got her information from or where this poll was conducted... I am interested to know whether this is indeed true...because if 70% of the people in my beautiful state think this is ok...then it might be time for me to move... A very saddened Arizonan, Claudia Cordova Hannum

As I understand it, that was a Rasmussen poll of "likely voters" in Arizona. Rasmussen is a recognized and respected polling firm, but I have seen some blogs questioning the methodology and the relatively small sample size (around 500, apparently). I assume there will be more polling in the coming days and weeks.

Why is it an unreasonable burden for law abiding, legal citizens to carry proof of citizenship? In order to drive a car I must carry a valid drivers license as well as proof of insurance. As a boat owner I have to carry similar documents. When I traveled to Mexico last year I had to carry a passport. I do all these things happily because it is my civic duty to obey the laws. Why do you feel people here illegally should be exempt from obeying the law?

Your question doesn't quite parse. I don't feel that people here illegally should be exempt from obeying the law. You are not required to carry a national identity card or any other sort of document proving that you are a citizen. There would be massive opposition to any proposal to make it mandatory for all U.S. citizens to carry i.d. documents on their person at all times. Yet some U.S. citizens in Arizona are being put in that position, because if a policeman thinks they look like they might be illegal aliens, he can challenge them to prove that they're not.

Governor Brewer has emphasized that steps, such as training for police forces, will be taken to prevent racial profiling and other abuses of the law. Is this goal realistic?

I have to admit that I laugh out loud whenever I hear Gov. Brewer say that. The whole POINT of the law is racial profiling -- detaining and questioning people who look like illegals, which means people who look Mexican.

The only way to stop the flow of people is to reduce their incentive for coming here. That means making it much more difficult to find work by cracking down on employers illegally hiring people. I've seen no evidence that either party is willing to do that in a serious, sustained way. Remember McCain telling audiences that Americans are unwilling to pick lettuce at any wage level?

I agree that the supply of illegal immigrant workers is chasing the demand from employers. And no, there's hasn't been a serious attempt to crack down on employers, with real consequences. I give credit to George W. Bush (!) for at least trying to come up with something -- his guest-worker idea. But it didn't fly.

Is it possible that John McCain's whole "Straight Talk Express" and "Republican maverick" shtick was just an act? That what we are seeing now, and what we saw in the 2008 election, is the real John McCain? If not, he seems awfully quick to abandon his supposedly core beliefs.

I'm not the only one in Washington trying to figure out just what's up with John McCain. Is all of this to keep from getting outflanked by J.D. Hayworth on his right? But why is he even so intent on reelection, at his age and at this point in his career? If he wants to stay in the Senate because there's something specific he wants to accomplish, how can he do it while at the same time renouncing so much of what he always said he believed?

Saying that the Arizona law is understandable because they face a terrible immigration crisis doesn't make sense. That's like saying a bank robbery is understandable because the robber needs money. Urgently needing something (money from the bank, more secure borders) does not give you the right to commit a crime or pass a repugnant, racist law. I am particularly furious about the corruption aspect that I have heard reported -- the provision allowing anybody to sue police for not enforcing the law "enough," given that FAIR, the ugly anti-immigrant lobby, specializes in such suits, stands to make a bundle from them here, and helped write the law. Can this payola provision even be constitutional? Suing the police for exercising their discretion as police officers?

Just a quick point of clarification. I wrote that it was understandable that Arizona would try to do something -- but not that this terrible law was in any way understandable or justifiable. I really don't understand the provision about suing the police for not enforcing the law. Obviously it was inserted because most police officials -- aside from the publicity-loving sheriff, Joe Arpaio -- hate this new law and believe it will make their jobs much, much harder.

The Republicans may never get another minority vote. With the arc of our population being more diverse how soon will they change directions?

It is breathtaking how short-sighted Republicans are being. It will be very hard for the party to win national elections if it insists on driving Latinos further into the arms of the Democrats. Just when some Latino leaders were getting frustrated with the Obama administration for not moving fast enough on immigration reform, here comes this Arizona law -- and once again, the Dems, at a minimum, look like the lesser of two evils.

The federal E-verify program is meant to check a job applicant's citizenship status, is 99% accurate, and is available free to any employer who wants to use it. If it were required by law to use this tool for ALL jobs in the US, illegals would end up self deporting en masse because there would be no jobs available to them all of a sudden. Do you support this program, and making it's use mandatory by all employers?

That would have to be accompanied by immigration reform that provided some kind of amnesty. Otherwise, employers would balk at losing valued employees.

First, just wanted to say I totally agree with your column. Second, Arizona won't be getting MY tourist dollars. My parents are from India but I was born and raised here. However, I assume that since I'm not white (and could pass for Mexican) I could be detained in Arizona. Have you talked to any Arizona officials about the impact this law could have on tourism? Why should I go to the Grand Canyon if the odds of me being stopped by a sketchy police officer are fairly high?

Some opponents of the bill have already called on people not to spend their tourist dollars in Arizona. Boycotts are crude instruments, and they inflict a lot of collateral damage on innocent people. Then again, years ago, it was the threat of a tourist boycott -- and the threat of denying Arizona the Super Bowl -- that helped convince the state to reinstate its Martin Luther King Day holiday.


My time is up, folks. Thanks for participating, and see you again next week.

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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