Another Immigration Message from Arizona

Last year sometime, when the Arizona immigration law S.B. 1070 was big news, I was preceded on a cable TV talk show by an Arizona state senator who had sponsored the legislation. As I sat in a remote studio in Washington, I could hear the senator in another studio rattle off what seemed an unending list of people in his state who had allegedly been killed by illegal immigrants. Knowing that the state’s violent crime rate has actually been declining and is the lowest it has been in 40 years, I thought to myself, “This guy is a first-class demagogue.”

Apparently his constituents agree. The state senator was Russell Pearce, main sponsor of Arizona’s tough anti-illegal-immigrant law. Yesterday his constituents removed him from office in a recall election spurred largely by his obsession with rooting out low-skilled, undocumented immigrants from his state.

Pearce tried to blame the recall on liberals soft on illegal immigration, but the opposition in his conservative district was fueled mainly by other Republicans tired of the damage he was inflicting on the state’s reputation. After passage of S.B. 1070, Pearce had then tried to deny state-issued birth certificates to children born in the state to an illegal immigrant parent despite more than a century of settled constitutional doctrine on birthright citizenship. That effort was stopped by business leaders in the state who saw no upside but plenty of downside in Pearce’s single-minded efforts that did nothing to address the state’s depressed economy.

Defeating Pearce was another Republican, Jerry Lewis, who carried 54 percent of the vote despite being outspent 3-1. After his victory last night, Lewis said,

Certainly the immigration issue is important to many people including myself. We need to bring a civil tone to that discussion, a professional approach to solving it, an approach that is reasonable and won’t be … in the courts for years to come.

Perhaps there is a lesson here for the GOP presidential candidates who have been competing with each other in recent debates to prove who can sound the most like Russell Pearce on immigration.