Marco Rubio: I have "concerns" about Arizona's immigration law

What’s that murmur I hear suddenly rippling through the throngs of America’s grassroots conservatives? Listen closely. It almost sounds like … “Second look at Crist.”

No no, just kidding. I’m amused by the punditocracy’s oohing and aahing over how deft Rubio’s statement is, because, really, what else could he say? Obviously he’s going to take a strong line on border enforcement to please tea partiers, and obviously he’s going to worry about the law being used to harass Latino citizens. Any conscientious politician — especially one facing a statewide race where the Cuban vote will be a factor — would do the same. And look: Potential civil rights abuses are a legit concern with the new law. I’ve written two posts explaining why I think those fears are overblown (see Byron York’s piece today in the Examiner arguing along the same lines), but it could be that I’m misreading it or that cops will apply it more broadly than intended. If so, and Latino citizens end up being mistakenly hauled in, that’s a big deal.

The one truly deft aspect of this statement? Framing the law as a potential problem not just for Latinos, but for law enforcement too.

Our legal immigration system must continue to welcome those who seek to embrace America’s blessings and abide by the legal and orderly system that is in place. The American people have every right to expect the federal government to secure our borders and prevent illegal immigration. It has become all too easy for some in Washington to ignore the desperation and urgency of those like the citizens of Arizona who are disproportionately wrestling with this problem as well as the violence, drug trafficking and lawlessness that spills over from across the border.

States certainly have the right to enact policies to protect their citizens, but Arizona’s policy shows the difficulty and limitations of states trying to act piecemeal to solve what is a serious federal problem. From what I have read in news reports, I do have concerns about this legislation. While I don’t believe Arizona’s policy was based on anything other than trying to get a handle on our broken borders, I think aspects of the law, especially that dealing with ‘reasonable suspicion,’ are going to put our law enforcement officers in an incredibly difficult position. It could also unreasonably single out people who are here legally, including many American citizens. Throughout American history and throughout this administration we have seen that when government is given an inch it takes a mile.

I hope Congress and the Obama Administration will use the Arizona legislation not as an excuse to try and jam through amnesty legislation, but to finally act on border states’ requests for help with security and fix the things about our immigration system that can be fixed right now – securing the border, reforming the visa and entry process, and cracking down on employers who exploit illegal immigrants.

Outside of maybe Jim DeMint, you’re not going to find any prominent Republican pushing a line much stronger than this. It’s simply too risky to take an unqualified “rock on, Arizona!” approach given the prospect of some sort of civil-rights clusterfark happening once it goes into effect. Just as I’m writing this, I see that Jeb Bush has weighed in against the statute, and as of this morning, Grahamnesty declared it flatly unconstitutional (without giving any reasons, natch). Even Tancredo has “concerns.” Rubio’s statement, which emphasizes the statute’s potential for abuse without ever declaring it illegal or calling for its repeal, is a comparative model of restraint.

One other point from his statement. The line about not giving the state an inch lest it take a mile is clever insofar as it marries criticism of the statute to tea-party concerns about small government. Eugene Robinson used the same argument in his op-ed today declaring the new law racist, hateful, blah blah blah. I don’t follow the logic, though. As far as I know, most tea partiers are hawkish (the Paulnut contingent excluded); a strong military necessarily means bigger government, but my hunch is that TPers are okay with that since national defense is what the federal government is for. Same with border defense. As I pointed out once before, tea partiers don’t mind paying taxes — a majority of them say their current tax burden is fair — but they want their tax money put to good use, and I dare say that border enforcement qualifies. Exit question for Rubio: Should we scale military spending way back on grounds that “when government is given an inch it takes a mile”? (Exit answer from Ron Paul: Yes!)

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