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04.25.10

Hate the Law, Not Arizonans

My home state’s new immigration law may be seriously flawed, but it’s trying to solve a serious problem.

Although I live in New York City, I still consider Arizona, where I was born and raised, to be my home. So for the past week, when it seems that my entire state came under fire from the national media because of its controversial new immigration law, I’ve found myself very protective of Arizonans, as I try to reconcile not only the politics but the emotions behind that law.

Let me say upfront that I do not support the bill that was signed by Governor Jan Brewer. I believe it gives the state police a license to discriminate, and also, in many ways, violates the civil rights of Arizona residents. Simply put, I think it is a bad law that is missing the bigger picture of what is really going on with illegal immigration. The concept that a law-enforcement official can stop an individual when “reasonable suspicion exists that a person is an alien, who is unlawfully present in the United States” is essentially a license to pull someone over for being Hispanic.

I think unless you are from a border state and have actually seen firsthand the effects illegal immigrants have on your community, you can't truly appreciate the complexities of the problem and how it should be litigated.

But I also understand why this law came into existence in the first place. Due to the continued failure of the federal government to secure Arizona’s borders, along with the rampant drug smuggling that has gotten increasingly worse over the years, emotions have been running high. However, the issue seemed to hit a fever pitch when a prominent Arizona rancher, Robert Krentz, was shot and killed last month by someone who was believed to be an illegal immigrant. I was in Arizona when Mr. Krentz was killed and it was major news, bringing the issue of drug smuggling and illegal immigration front and center in state politics. The murder eventually led  both Governor Brewer and my father to call for federal officials to send more National Guard troops to the Mexican border.

Tunku Varadarajan: Say 'Hell No' to ArizonaThus far, I think that both Arizona legislation and the national media have done a poor job articulating the real problems with illegal immigration in Arizona. And like all things in this country, partisan politics is getting in the way of actually solving the problem in an effective manner. I emailed a good friend of mine who lives in Arizona and also works in politics to ask him what he thought of the law and he answered: “Arizona is ground zero for the wingnuts. There’s a problem with illegal immigration and no one wants to do anything constructive about it so you get crap like this.”

And when a flawed law is magnified through the prism of extreme partisan politics, it only looks worse. With President Obama calling the law “misguided” and the mainstream media painting Arizona out to be a rogue state, all it does is make people go to greater lengths to defend their position. I think unless you are from a border state and have actually seen firsthand the effects illegal immigrants have on your community, I don’t think you can truly appreciate the complexities of the problem and how it should be litigated.

In the end, the saddest part for me is that we are all losing with this immigration law. Arizona is being shown in a negative light in the media, and once again Hispanic voters in Arizona have yet another reason to distrust the Republican Party. And the issue of immigration has now become so politicized that I seriously wonder if anything can be done to combat the real issues. In the meantime, Arizona ranchers are being shot and killed and very little has been done to prevent it from happening again.

Meghan McCain is a columnist for The Daily Beast. Originally from Phoenix, she graduated from Columbia University in 2007. She is a New York Times bestselling children's author, previously wrote for Newsweek magazine, and created the website mccainblogette.com.