Arizona judge gets it exactly right

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., Special to CNN
July 29, 2010 8:43 a.m. EDT

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist, an NPR commentator, and a regular contributor to

San Diego, California (CNN) -- U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ripped the guts out of SB 1070 on Wednesday, striking down the most egregious and indefensible parts of Arizona's immigration law.

That's exactly what you should do when confronted with a monster -- in this case, the monstrosity of a law that usurps federal authority over immigration enforcement, doesn't just allow for racial profiling but requires it by allowing police to arrest people they suspect are in the country illegally, makes it a state crime to ask for work if one is undocumented and requires legal immigrants to carry documents proving their legal status.

If I were grading this law, I'd give it straight D's. It's divisive, dangerous, dishonest and dysfunctional. It's divisive because whites and Latinos see the law differently; according to polls, about 70 percent of whites support it, and 70 percent of Latinos oppose it.

It's dangerous because, as Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris argues, local police shouldn't have to enforce immigration law at the cost of reallocating resources aimed at tackling other kinds of crime.

It's dishonest because Arizonans created the very problem they're now complaining about so vociferously by hiring illegal immigrants.

And it's dysfunctional because neither local cops nor federal immigration agents had any idea how they were going to enforce the very provisions that the judge struck down.

Bolton cherry-picked those elements of the law that she found troubling and issued a preliminary injunction against those parts. The rest of the law -- allowing for perfectly reasonable things such as making it a state crime to transport illegal immigrants -- will go into effect Thursday as planned.

There were seven lawsuits seeking to block the law's implementation. Bolton based her ruling on the most significant of these challenges, the lawsuit filed by the Obama administration. It argued that Arizona had, through its power grab, exceeded its authority and violated the U.S. Constitution.

I can appreciate that Bolton was so unsympathetic to the Arizona lawmakers who wrote the flawed piece of legislation, as well as to Gov. Jan Brewer, who has been shamefully using her defense of the law to get elected in November.

That's because, frankly, after several weeks of digesting arguments in favor and against the Arizona law, I can't figure out which group of actors I find less sympathetic.

There are the Arizonans who play dumb about why it is that their state became, in the past 20 years, a magnet for illegal immigrants when they must know full well that it's because so many Arizonans hire illegal immigrants to do jobs that Arizonans won't do.

And then we have the illegal immigrants themselves, who seem to be shocked and offended the United States dares to enforce its laws and some of whom are fleeing the state because, up to now, they've been playing dumb about what it means to be living in this country illegally.

Isn't there a way for us to deport both groups? After all, the United States already has enough people who see themselves as helpless victims of gargantuan forces beyond their control. Do we really need more?

To be clear, most illegal immigrants who are leaving Arizona aren't going home to Mexico. They're just moving one or two states over. Adios, Arizona; hola, Utah, Texas and Colorado.

And what if they did go back? What would a state like Arizona, where employers have developed an addiction to illegal immigrant labor, do without the same illegal immigrants they love to complain about?

Are Arizona's teenagers going to step away from their video games and $3 ice mochas and swing hammers on construction sites in Phoenix in July when it's 118 degrees outside? Good luck with that.

As for the immigrants themselves, if they refuse to admit that they did anything wrong in coming here illegally or overstaying their visa so that their legal status lapsed, then how in the world are they going to -- as immigration reformers like to say -- get right with the law to earn legal status?

Can't they understand why so many Americans, even those who oppose the Arizona law, resent the sense of entitlement we see from illegal immigrants who demand this and demand that without acknowledging that there are rules to follow and that those who break them have to make restitution?

For weeks, I've seen illegal immigrants tell CNN reporters that they feel victimized by the Arizona law, as if somehow a promise has been broken. They resent being hunted. That's too bad. They're supposed to be hunted. They're here illegally.

The difference of opinion in Arizona -- and it's a big one -- is who should do the hunting. I insist that the answer is federal immigration agents. The state of Arizona claims that badges are interchangeable and submits that local cops can do the job just as well.

This week, in a victory for common sense, a federal judge said otherwise.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.