Arizona Primary Sets Ugly Standard

Alessandra Soler Meetze is the Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona. The daughter of Argentine and Brazilian parents, she is the first Latina to head the statewide civil liberties organization. Prior to joining the Arizona affiliate, she was the Communications Director at the ACLU of Florida.

In recent years, Arizona has been thrust into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.  From the passage of the notorious SB 1070—the harshest anti-immigrant measure of its time— to the tragic shootings in Tucson, we have been characterized as a politically and socially backwater state that attracts only the fringe elements of society.  And last week, the candidates spoke directly to the fringe, agreeing to support unconstitutional and inhumane anti-immigrant laws.
We’ve heard Mitt Romney’s statement that Arizona’s anti-immigrant racial profiling law is a “model” for the nation and Rick Santorum declare that "I think what we need to do is to give law enforcement the opportunity to do what they're doing here in Arizona and what Sheriff Arpaio was doing before he ran into some issues with the federal government.” This kind of divisive and intolerant rhetoric does nothing to further the GOP’s hopes with Latino voters in Arizona and certainly does not advance American values of fairness and equality.

This kind of talk was noticeably absent from the GOP debate in Florida last month. But, that’s no surprise given the power of the Latino vote in Florida.  The candidates went as far as trying to “one-up” each other when it came to demonstrating their support for helping immigrants integrate into society.  In fact, when Romney was attacked by Newt Gingrich for being the most “anti-immigrant candidate on stage,” he proudly declared: “Mr. Speaker, I’m not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico.  My wife’s father was born in Wales. They came to this country and the idea that I am anti-immigrant is repulsive.” 

Despite the anti-civil liberty rhetoric of Arizona politicians like Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who describes Mexicans who come across the border as “dirty” and prides himself for “going after illegals, not just the crime,” or Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who argues that the majority of illegal immigrants are "drug mules" used to smuggle narcotics into the country – a claim that was widely disputed even by the likes of Sen. John McCain – WE THE PEOPLE of Arizona are fed up with the extremist agenda and the tide is turning.

Last spring, top CEOs representing 60 Arizona-based businesses penned a letter opposing divisive anti-immigrant measures, such as those that would deny birth certificates to children born in this state.  Last November, voters recalled Russell Pearce, the man who proudly referred to himself as the architect of SB 1070.  The election was widely perceived to be a referendum on radical, anti-immigrant views. 

If the candidates can’t have a consistent position and rational debate on immigration—one that balances our security interests with the safeguards enshrined in our Constitution, hopefully voters will continue to reject candidate pandering to the fringe in favor of the facts.  And, hopefully, as the primary season continues, we, as a nation, can urge the candidates to explore policy solutions, including humane immigration reforms that unite us rather than divide us.

ACLU Liberty Watch 2012 is the voice for the Constitution in the this year’s presidential election. Follow: how the candidates rate on Humane Immigration Policy.