Leading 'by any means necessary'
Q: No matter what you may think about the wisdom or legality of Arizona's immigration law, its proponents have succeeded in putting immigration enforcement back at the top of the national political agenda. Is this an example of "leading up," providing leadership on an issue where you have responsibility without authority?
I understand the need to secure the borders of a state from illegal entry, particularly if it is to ensure the safety of its citizens and to stop criminal activities. Consistent policies and enforcement of laws are needed to help achieve this, and Arizona's immigration law has exposed this need. However, neither the content of the law or the process and impact of its passage should be characterized as leadership, whether up or down. A "by any means necessary" approach to a complex problem is more of an example of coercion than leading.
The law passed by Arizona gives state and local police the authority to stop anyone they suspect is unlawfully present in the United States. Such ambiguity opens the door wide to subjectivity and licenses the targeting of a particular ethnic group. The law is intended to stop the flow of illegal immigrants but its implementation can endanger the civil rights of all. How will law enforcement officials decide who looks like a citizen and who doesn't? Will it be physical appearance, behavior, or the attitudes and perceptions of individual policeman that will dictate who will be stopped? In this age of increasing diversity what does a "real American citizen" look like?
Had the leaders in Arizona wanted to be an example for the rest of the country on how to deal with porous borders, they might have worked with their congressional representatives and senators to develop legislation that achieved their goal. This issue definitely deserves attention but it should be the right attention for the right reasons. The governor of Arizona could have formed a bipartisan, diverse group of citizen leaders to recommend solutions to the problem. Instead, the response was reactive and provocative action without much thoughtful dialogue or consideration of the negative impact that giving ultimate authority to police to determine whether an individual belongs in this Country would have on the meaning of democracy and the rights of legal citizens. They weren't leading up; they were fed up, and that is not the best condition for arriving at reasonable and effective law making.
The means used to bring immigration policies back in the limelight have added to the tinderbox of divisiveness. The anger and suspicions aroused on all sides have been heightened and the sense of safety that the originators of the bill were seeking has been diminished.
Katherine Tyler Scott
July 14, 2010; 2:51 PM ET
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