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Arizona leads, sort of

The state’s tough new law highlights the need for national reform.

April 27, 2010

Thank you, Arizona.

Despite our strong condemnation of a new law that will likely promote racial profiling of Latinos in your state, we must acknowledge that you have accomplished what many others — including senators, committed activists and a willing president — have failed to achieve. You put immigration back on the national agenda.

The truth is, something had been missing from the latest push for comprehensive immigration reform. It had been a campaign in search of a movement. This lack of emotional traction persisted despite the earnest efforts of advocates who lobbied Congress, pressured President Obama to keep his campaign promise and rallied their troops to Washington. But even when thousands of immigrants and their allies converged on the National Mall in March, the nation paid little heed: The House was voting on healthcare reform that day.

Now that Arizona has made it a crime for immigrants — legal or otherwise — not to carry identification, and now that police are required to ascertain the immigration status of anyone they reasonably suspect is in the state illegally, the nation is awake to the unconscionable extremes states might pursue if there is no federal reform. Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, who sponsored the legislation, says opponents are overreacting and that the law has safeguards to prevent racial profiling. To fear that will happen, he says, is to lack faith in the police. We have faith that the police will be just as confused as everyone else about whom to suspect of being in the state illegally. Their starting points, almost certainly, will be brown skin, dark hair and accented English.

Over the weekend, on "Meet the Press," Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said that immediate federal action is necessary. "Before the events get further out of hand, we've got to step up and do the job," he said. And he's right. The United States has made no progress toward a coherent immigration policy in the past few years, but last week Arizona demonstrated that the country isn't just inert, it is actually sliding backward. So if this travesty of a law inspires Congress to act and develop a sensible new policy, we have Arizona to thank.

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