Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Probing Motive In Arizona

Interviewing a skeptical Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) on Monday night about the new Arizona anti-immigration law, Keith Olbermann asked

You just brought up a major point, Congressman, that I think has not been emphasized here. Ultimately, what do you think the point is of this law? Is it really just about immigration and a porous border? Or is there something in here about wearing out Latinos who want to live there, particularly those who want to go vote there?

Unfortunately, Gutierrez, an adamant critic of the legislation who nonetheless apparently was born yesterday, responded in part:

You know, I think they understand that the Latino community isn‘t going anywhere....

Kudos go to Olbermann, who at least briefly abandoned his Everyone Who Doesn't Agree With Me Is A Racist theme to raise the likely primary motivating factor for the law. Greg Palast, in an article very much worth reading, explains

In 2008, working for Rolling Stone with civil rights attorney Bobby Kennedy, our team flew to Arizona to investigate what smelled like an electoral pogrom against Chicano voters ... directed by one Jan Brewer.

Brewer, then Secretary of State, had organized a racially loaded purge of the voter rolls that would have made Katherine Harris blush. Beginning after the 2004 election, under Brewer's command, no less than 100,000 voters, overwhelmingly Hispanics, were blocked from registering to vote. In 2005, the first year of the Great Brown-Out, one in three Phoenix residents found their registration applications rejected.

That statistic caught my attention. Voting or registering to vote if you're not a citizen is a felony, a big-time jail-time crime. And arresting such criminal voters is easy: after all, they give their names and addresses.

Captives of Sheriff Joe's prison, Maricopa County, Arizona. So I asked Brewer's office, had she busted a single one of these thousands of allegedly illegal voters? Did she turn over even one name to the feds for prosecution?

No, not one.

Which raises the question: were these disenfranchised voters the criminal, non-citizens Brewer tagged them, or just not-quite-white voters given the José Crow treatment, entrapped in document-chase trickery?

The answer was provided by a federal prosecutor who was sent on a crazy hunt all over the Western mesas looking for these illegal voters. "We took over 100 complaints, we investigated for almost 2 years, I didn’t find one prosecutable voter fraud case."

(That prosecutor was the famous David Iglesias, then fired by George W. Bush and President Rove.)

There is, moreover, a template for this. In September, 2007, New York Times reporters Ken Belson and Jill P. Capuzzo showed how good intentions (if, like me, you supported the ordinance) or bad intentions (if, like most liberals/progressives, you didn't) can go awry. After Riverside, NJ enacted legislation "penalizing anyone who employed or rented to an illegal immigrant"
the local economy suffered. Hair salons, restaurants and corner shops that catered to the immigrants saw business plummet; several closed. Once-boarded-up storefronts downtown were boarded up again.

Meanwhile, the town was hit with two lawsuits challenging the law. Legal bills began to pile up, straining the town’s already tight budget.... last week, the town rescinded the ordinance.

The legislation proved counter-productive for Riverside as many of its (mostly Brazilian) immigrants left town, taking with them much of the economic vitality of the small, working-class town.

But if, as is likely, there will be a similar exodus from Arizona, that would be a boon to Arizona's ruling party, the GOP. Its politicians hardly could be oblivious to the probable impact upon the electorate of the anti-immigrant law they have enacted, nor of what transpired in one municipality in New Jersey. As Palast noted, the media was deluded, having attributed the recent legislation to "a wave of racist, anti-immigrant hysteria that moved Arizona Republicans." Probably, it was not primarily anti-immigrant, or anti-illegal immigrant, sentiment, but a classic Republican power grab.

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