As frenzied political junkies begin to chatter about the fight for the Latino vote in November, another fight is brewing in Washington this spring. Yesterday, the highest court in the land heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB 1070.
The Court has the potential to officially condone the use of racial profiling and discrimination against Hispanics and other minorities.
The law was enacted in the name of fighting undocumented immigration, but its victims may be legal residents or, ironically, citizens–the precious voters both parties are trying to attract.
The decision, which is expected to be handed down in June, will land with a splash in the middle of the presidential campaign. It has the potential to sharpen the contrasts between a president, Barack Obama, who supports comprehensive immigration reform while setting records for deportation, and an (almost-certain) Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, who is now doing the typical candidate dance to the center to appeal to independent and moderate voters in the general election.
Most important perhaps is attracting Latinos, whom he has isolated for the past several months with anti-immigrant positions.
The Supreme Court case marks another contrast: Obama’s Department of Justice is the plaintiff in the case, having sued Arizona for usurping the role of the federal government in setting immigration laws.
Romney, for his part, has said that if he were elected one of his first actions would be withdrawing the lawsuits against Arizona and other states that have passed their own immigration laws.
Furthermore, the mastermind behind SB 1070 and other anti-immigrant state laws (like Alabama’s HB 56), Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, “informal” advisor to Romney on immigration.
Gary Segura, a professor of political science at Stanford and a principal at the polling firm Latino Decisions, thinks that regardless of the outcome of the case, SB 1070 will have political implications in both the short-term and long-term. It could be of particular benefit, he says, to Democrats.
“If SB 1070 is upheld, Latinos will be inflamed, Republicans will embrace it and Latino turnout and enthusiasm for the election will go up. If SB 1070 is struck down, largely because the president authorized the Justice Department to sue, the president gets the benefit of all of that and you can expect Republicans to denounce the Court and to say predictably awful things about Latinos. So it’s kind of good for Obama either way,” Segura says.
While some consider Obama’s failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform-a promise he made during his 2008 campaign-to have opened the door for laws like SB 1070, Segura argues that while Latino voters will probably make that connection, “he has the perfect comeback, which is that there is not a single Republican legislator willing to sign on to comprehensive immigration reform.”
“If the other party was reasonably competing for Latino votes, he’d [Obama] be in a lot of trouble for his inaction [on immigration reform], and the deportations, and the whole inadequacy of his handling of the issue, but he benefits, as Democrats have for generations, from comparison to this sort of xenophobic, ethnocentric, social conservative Republicans.”
That’s exactly the type of Republican the Supreme Court case is putting in the spotlight. The law the Court’s considering is championed by anti-immigrant stalwarts like Kris Kobach, who’s linked to Romney’s presidential campaign-but it would permit discrimination against the same Latino voters Romney’s now trying to win over.
Maribel Hastings, a native of Puerto Rico, is America’s Voice Senior Advisor, political commentator and columnist. Previously, for nearly 20 years, Maribel worked with La Opinión, the largest Spanish-language daily in the U.S. as their Washington, D.C. correspondent. In that capacity, she covered Congress, major political stories and elections.