A couple of weeks ago, right after the final Health Care Bill vote, I was asked by some friends and business colleagues what I thought the chances were for Congress to tackle immigration reform this year. I looked at them, laughed and said, “Are you kidding?”
After a brutal year-plus-battle over health care, the generation of an exercised, anti-government Tea Party movement and mid-term election just months away, I couldn’t fathom that anyone in Congress had the stomach, strength or political wherewithal to open up this can of worms. Regardless of what political prognosticators and TV pundits may say, to me this was a no-win issue for Democrats and Republicans and both sides would avoid it at all costs before November’s mid-term elections.
While the no-win issue has not changed, the political circumstances have changed dramatically since I made my initial statement some weeks back. The Arizona Governor’s signature last week of the toughest immigration bill in the country is literally forcing the hands of both political parties to skate on perilously thin ice in an election year when it comes to their political bases.
As stark and blunt as the Arizona legislation may be, it is a fundamental reaction to the failure of the federal government to address the immigration issue. While there have been noble attempts in the past, they have all crumbled under the politics of the day. As a result, a bad situation has only become worse. Fed up with Washington’s inability to get things done, Arizona has acted on its own to address the issue. As distasteful as many may find the Arizona law, the hard, cold truth is it’s hard to blame them for acting. They have been on the front line of this issue for years, and with border violence escalating and spilling over into their own communities, legislators had little choice but to react.
And that’s the situation Washington finds itself in – it has to act. Continued ignorance and ineptitude in addressing these issues will no longer be tolerated by communities on the front lines. That’s the loud and clear message that Arizona has sent to Washington, and it is forcing this Congress and Administration to make some big choices before November 2.
In a game of high stakes political poker, Arizona has raised the stakes and is calling the cards of Democrats who are desperate to save their majorities and Republicans who don’t want to alienate generations of Hispanic voters for decades to come. This is the last thing either of them probably wanted at this juncture, but the cards have been laid out and Arizona has made its call.
Poker decisions when someone’s back is literally against the wall tend not to be comfortable things to watch. Cameras, spectators and of course opponents are literally watching for where the beads of sweat will appear and where a twitch may appear that gives the other side an indication of what cards you’re holding. Truth be told, regardless of perspiration and twitches, both political sides will lose in this game given the hands they’ve been dealt.
If Republicans go to adopt a tough Arizona-like stance against illegal immigration, they will be tarred by their opponents as racist xenophobes and they can probably write off generations of the Hispanic vote.
If Democrats decide to push for large-scale amnesty for illegal immigrants, they will be labeled as weak-kneed, anti-security, welfare-state harbingers and risk losing key voting blocks in moderate-to-conservative-leaning voters.
While both descriptions are sweeping generalizations, they crystallize the stakes of this high stakes game that will be played out in the next few weeks. Arizona has literally forced the hands in Washington and in the remaining 49 states to make a call. If you thought the health care debate was full of fury, you haven’t seen anything yet.