Eugene Robinson Live

Jun 26, 2012

Eugene Robinson chatted about his columns and the latest in political news.

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Hello, everyone. Welcome to our weekly counseling session. Lots of news yesterday from the Supreme Court, where Arizona's attempt to craft its own hard-line immigration policy got slam-dunked. More news coming Thursday from the same quarter, with health care reform hanging in the balance. Meanwhile, the presidential campaign grinds on. And on. And on. Let's get started.

Jan Brewer can't seem to get the message of the ruling straight. Do you think she'll get a clue from her compatriots on the right?

Gov. Brewer seems to believe she has scored some kind of victory. She should read Justice Scalia's dissent to learn just how comprehensively her draconian law was gutted by the Supreme Court yesterday. On the central question -- do states have the right to design their own immigration policy -- she lost. On three out of the four specific provisions of the law at issue, she lost. On the fourth, she was put on notice to tread very lightly. Not a good day for her. A much better day for the nation.

How can you have a "reasonable suspicion" that someone is in the country illegally w/out some sort of racial profiling? I understand there are over 1 million illegal Irish immigrantsin the country. I'm sure they stand out much more than do Hispanics, if any happen to be in AZ. Does a brogue make you suspicious? My elderly father-in-law came here from Norway in the 1960's and never returned. He qualifies for citizenship but just never bothered. I'm pretty ure he's safe, but you never can tell.

Tell your father-in-law not to drive through Phoenix with a busted tail light. I'm pretty sure Jan Brewer and Sheriff Joe are singling out Norwegians for ethnic profiling...

I'm concern by your instinct (and that of some others) to instantly try to paint everything as a partisan victory. The real victors yesterday was common sense. You don't have to carry around an ID and you still need a warrant to be arrested. However there was also a clear message that you conveniently left out of your article, that there is states do have a role in enforcing immigration laws as long as they are not used to racially profile.

Actually, that wasn't the message. Read the majority opinion and read Scalia's dissent. The state was given permission to hassle people, but not much more. Federal immigration law preempts state attempts to rewrite that law, and states can't make it a crime to be in this country without papers (as a general rule, the ruling notes, that is indeed not a crime).

That was an excellent column, today. But why does everybody (I apologize--but that would include you, as well) assume that ALL illegal immigrants are Hispanic? ( There are also many European illegal immigrants; even in Arizona, (I saw no mention of that in your column.) Why are they ignored? Also, are you old enough to remember the movie, "Born in East L.A.?" In it, Marin Cheech is thought to be an illegal immigrant because he had no papers--because he was born in East L.A.--and deported to Mexico. Even with some of the law struck down, could that actually happen? Thank you.

To answer your second question, it is not likely that a citizen would be deported, but the fragment of the Arizona law that remains means that some citizens will surely be annoyed, inconvenienced and perhaps detained unjustly. To answer your first question, of course I don't assume that all undocumented immigrants are Hispanic, but the majority are -- and that's certainly true in Arizona.

Gene: There were Hispanics in the Southwest long before there were Anglos. I think perhaps some folks whose families have been in Arizona since the 16th Century should deliberately try to get themselves busted by Sheriff Arpaio and then bring the madre of all lawsuits, citing racial profiling.

On the history, you're absolutely right. And I don't think anyone's going to have to try hard to provoke a misuse of the crummy "show me your papers" law. It will happen, inevitably, and yesterday's ruling makes clear that unconstitutional racial profiling -- or preemption of federal prerogatives -- will not be viewed kindly.

If you are a U.S. citizen, you don't need to carry papers. But how do you prove that you are a citizen? You have to carry papers (birth certificate). This law is just an excuse to harass anyone that doesn't look like the governor.

Part of the Arizona law that got struck down would have compelled immigrants to carry their green cards or some other document proving they had a right to be in the country. With that provision gone, the "show me your papers" law asks for a driver's license or something like that -- which has to be accepted as proof of residence. And if the person isn't carrying any documents, police can only take a reasonable amount of time to do a records check. This is still onerous (and eventually will be struck down, I believe), but it's far less than what Arizona wanted.

Today right now someone demands that you have proof that you can be in the US legally. You are on your job and you have no way to prove your American citizenship right now. Geez whiz you never got a passport or is it at the bank in the safety deposit box? Where is your birth certificate? At home...well that's no help...Off to the pokey with you and no paperwork.

If Gov. Brewer treats everyone in Arizona this way, she gets tossed out of office quicker than you can say "Sheriff Joe." If she only treats Latinos this way, the remaining fragment of her mean-spirited, un-American law gets tossed out by the courts.

I believe immigration will be important to our economic progress. In a global economy, the countries that will grow economically will be the ones that attract what has become a worldwide mobile labor supply. Plus, when I read the analysis of some Economists that we will need that our Federal budget, if held constant over tie, will be 100% for debt repayment in 50 years. One way to avoid that, state the same economic forecasters, is to add 50 million taxpayers above current population projections, then we really should be seeking to add more immigrants every year. (Of court, more frugal spending and increasing revenues are other ways, yet a combination of efforts may avoid this crisis.) Fortunately, history shows us that second generation immigrants tend to be very productive, and that could solve our projected economic crisis. Our economy actually needs more immigrants.

That's basically right: Immigration is a great strength of our economy, one that other industrialized nations do not enjoy. For one thing, it keeps our population from aging as fast as the rest of the industrialized world. That really boosts our economic prospects in the long run.

I agree with the decision (in fact I think the whole thing should have be struck down). That said, I think that the negative impact of illegal immigration is borne by the border states in ways that we in DC simply don't appreciate. I don't think that their position that the current system is broken and unworkable is irrational or racist. How can that be addressed?

I was in Arizona a few years ago when the flow of undocumented immigrants was at its maximum, and yes, there was great strain on public services and you could understand the atmosphere of crisis. Now, however, net migration is near zero. Republicans and Democrats alike were frustrated with Washington's failure to address immigration. The had -- and have -- a right to be.

Why has noone pinged on the fact that according to the Court ruling, and Arizona drivers license is enough to prove legality? Its in there, so if you get pulled over driving and you show your license when asked about your papers, you're good to go. That assumption, along with a couple of others, were specifically addressed in the ruling.

I think I noted this in an earlier answer, but  you're right.

When the states can't protect their citizens from illegal felons and the democratic leaders refuse to follow the existing federal laws? Sure is confusing - but then again I'm an English speaking hard working American that values following the rules.

Felons should be arrested and sent to jail. As the Supreme Court noted yesterday, being here without documents is not a crime.

Let me preface this question by saying I will not be voting for Romney. The meme on him is that he won't be specific, won't take a stand, won't answer a question. And we have plenty of examples of this. But with regard to the AZ law, why won't reporters accept his statement that states have the duty and the right to protect their borders in a way they see fit? It seems to me his philosophy is states' rights/small federal government, and so whatever a state decides to do, as long as it's Constitutional (which the SCOTUS would determine), it's fine. Does he really need to give his opinion on every law implemented by every state?

No, not on every law, but this one is pretty important, wouldn't you agree? And is it just me, or is that an odd thing to say right after the Supreme Court rules that states do not have the duty or the right to protect their borders however they see fit? The whole point of the court's decision was that the federal government sets immigration policy, not the states. Did Romney not get this?

You say "Part of the Arizona law that got struck down would have compelled immigrants to carry their green cards or some other document proving they had a right to be in the country." - that's actually not true. Federal immigration law requires legal immigrants to carry their green cards. It was struck down because the state can't create immigration law. Its still federal law.

Actually, I think we both misspoke. I believe that was struck down because Arizona sought to make it a crime for immigrants not to carry documents. 

Yes I guess racist police will go 'that extra mile', but I know that the men & women who work in my department. . . well we weren't going to do this kind of harassment anyway. We have actual issues to deal with, we don't have time to bother regular citizens on their way to work or school. To be frank, it was only the politicians that ever cared; not law enforcement.

Thanks for bringing us back to reality. I wondered if Arizona's police and sheriff's departments were so well-funded and overstaffed that officers could spend their time rounding up jaywalker and listening to their life stories.

What's with Scalia? He's gone off his rocker. I picture him screaming obscenities at the other justices and foaming at the mouth. I sure hope Justice Roberts thinks twice about agreeing with that nutcase in the future.

Jutice Scalia is wrong about many, many things, in my view. But he has long been the most colorful writer on the court, and his dissent in the Arizona case isn't the first time he has departed from legal analysis and begun, um, fulminating about this or that. I guess I prefer wrong and interesting to wrong and boring.

If it's not a crime then why don't we just let anyone and everyone in from anywhere? By your logic there shouldn't even be an immigration process - just open the flood gates and let everyone in.

It's not my "logic," it's just a fact as noted by the Supreme Court. If you're found to be here without documents, you're subject to deportation but not to criminal penalties.

So, what do you think will happen if the ACA falls, and especially if all the people who actually benefited so far (no pre-existing exclusions, youngsters on parents' policy until 26) are back to square one? Riots? Obama a shoo-in?

As Joni Mitchell once sang, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." The reaction might not be at all what President Obama's opponents expect.

I've read a lot of comments about the politics of health care, but fairly little pinning the blame where it really belongs, on those in congress for getting too cute with the wording of the law. Congress can clearly give out tax breaks (however this money could, heaven forbid actually go to people who pay taxes, aka those who are better off). It can also tax a good or service that people buy. What tax law has been very clear about in the past is the idea of punishing a specific group of people (ie punitive taxes). The bottom line, democrats were so concerned about not creating a new tax (or giving out tax breaks) that they forgot to check the basic idea that what they were proposing was allowed under traditional law. If they had been up front about what this is ( a tax) and labeled it correctly, the only option for conservatives would be repeal via congress.

Leaving political wisdom aside, it is true that if the administration had opted for a tax, it is unlikely that the courts could or would have intervened.

What do you think is the significance, if any, of conservative Chief Justice John Roberts voting with Anthony Kennedy and the liberal SCOTUS appointees on the Arizona ruling?

I've seen lots of theories. Some say he voted with Kennedy because otherwise it would have been 4-4 and the lower court ruling that threw out the whole law would apply. Others say that he saw it as such an important case that it was the court's duty to come up with a ruling yea or nay, and this was the only way. I have no idea, but I'm willing to consider the possibility that he simply voted his true opinion.

Can we both agree that there's no chance that I, a (semi) affluent white guy who drives a Prius, would EVER be asked for my papers in Arizona?

Please step away from the planet-friendly hybrid vehicle, sir, with your hands behind your head.


And now it's time for me to step away -- from the chat, not the car. My time is up, so I'll see you again next week. Drive carefully, especially in Arizona!

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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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