The more Arizona's budget problems worsen, the more Republican immigrant bashing stays the same.

The Republican-majority legislature still hasn't balanced this year's budget. Meat cleavers in hand, they're cutting even more from schools and vital social services, while trying to slip a few tax breaks to their business friends and raise taxes on the rest of us.

But it's an election year, so they need to change the subject.

What to do? Blame Napolitano? They're trying, but she's in D.C., and Brewer is at the helm. Blame gay marriage? That's so last election. It just doesn't have much traction this year.

But immigrant bashing is the conservative gift that keeps on giving, and the Republicans are working it for all it's worth.

"Look over there!" they shout. "It's all the fault of the illegal immigrants. If it wasn't for them, our state budget would be overflowing with cash, we'd have 110 percent employment and our schools would produce a generation of Harvard-ready graduates at half the cost!"

A few years ago, a group of legislators including John McCain and the late Ted Kennedy joined with George Bush, put partisan differences aside and agreed on a humane, workable approach to national immigration reform. They understood 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. can't simply be rounded up and sent back to their countries of origin. There needs to be a policy that recognizes their presence in the country and creates a path to citizenship.

But right wing politicians would have nothing to do with reasonable, comprehensive reform. They depend on hate and fear to rally their base. Scapegoating immigrants is the way they win elections. They thrive on headline grabbing, high visibility police raids, jailings and deportations. So immigration reform went nowhere.

In the Arizona Legislature, Senator Russell Pearce, whom our own Al Melvin does his best to emulate, is the reigning anti-immigration mad dog. He and his cronies equate illegal immigrants – people whose primary motivation is to seek a better life for their families, who tend to be hard-working and productive – with bank robbers and murderers. "They're nothing but criminals!" Pearce and his pack snarl, hoping no one will see the people behind the vicious racial and ethnic stereotypes – the fathers and mothers, their living, breathing, flesh and blood children.

This year's anti-immigration legislation from Pearce is, if anything, worse than usual. It tightens the noose on businesses that hire undocumented workers. Employers who make two slips in three years will be put out of business. Even the conservative Arizona Chamber of Commerce is concerned.

The bill also turns anyone who stops his car or truck to pick up a "day laborer" into a criminal. It requires police to check the papers of someone who might possibly be undocumented. And anyone who thinks a local government isn't tough enough on illegal aliens can sue the city or county.

But from my perspective as an educator, the most heartless bill proposed is one that criminalizes children, creating a virtual border fence in front of the schoolhouse door. Schools will be required to seek out students "who cannot prove lawful residence in the United States" and report them to the Department of Education.

As a result, children and teenagers will be wandering around during school hours, uneducated, minimally supervised or left completely to their own devices, ready to be preyed upon by the worst elements of society, open to the worst kinds of abuse, ripe for recruitment by Arizona's criminal element.

I honestly don't see how the people who write these bills, people who are fond of puffing out their chests and trumpeting family values, can live with themselves.

Politicians will continue to exploit inhumane immigrant bashing tactics as long as voters keep re-electing them. It's time for people to use their ballots to say "No" to anyone who exploits fear and hate to divide people from one another.


Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.


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