For the last several years, State Senator Russell Pearce has been the face of the anti-illegal immigrant movement in Arizona. But his district voted this week to recall him, ending a 10-year state legislative career that has been marked by ugly episodes.
It's about time.
Pearce was the chief author of Arizona SB 1070, the controversial law still being challenged in the courts that, among other things, allows law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect is there illegally. And Pearce has sponsored legislation that would attempt to deny citizenship to children born in Arizona to parents who are illegal immigrants, despite the 14th Amendment guarantee of birthright citizenship.
Perhaps it was the accumulation of creepy incidents that finally turned voters in Mesa, Ariz., against Pearce. In an email message to supporters of his anti-birthright citizenship proposal, Pearce forwarded this suggestion from a fellow traveler: "We need to target the mother ... Men don't drop anchor babies, illegal alien mothers do."
It wasn't the first time Pearce's emails got him in hot water. In 2006, he sent out an attachment from a white supremacist organization. A year later, he was photographed in the company of a well-known neo-Nazi, whose affiliation Pearce claimed to be unaware of.
But perhaps the coup de grace for Pearce was the race card he tried to play during the recall election. He outspent his opponent by more than three to one -- much of the money raised out of state by anti-immigrant groups -- but he also engaged in dirty tricks. Pearce's brother and nieces were among the operatives who circulated petitions to put a Hispanic, Olivia Cortes, on the ballot, hoping to draw Hispanics in his district away from his main opponent, Jerry Lewis.
In Pearce's world, you see, race trumps all. So, naturally, Pearce thought Hispanic voters in the district would all flock to their compadre. It didn't work. The Hispanic candidate didn't fool anybody and had to withdraw her name when the dirty-tricks campaign was challenged in court.
Voters in Pearce's district apparently had enough of this unseemly behavior. And it isn't just voters in one district in Arizona who have drawn the line when it comes to candidates who push the anti-immigrant line too far. In 2008, tough-on-illegals candidates J.D. Hayworth and Randy Graf lost their Congressional races to two candidates who took a more moderate approach. And Hayworth lost his challenge to incumbent Sen. John McCain in the Republican primary in 2010.
Sooner or later, the GOP will come to grips with the fact that beating up on illegal immigrants won't solve anything. We do have an illegal immigrant problem in this country, and it needs to be addressed. But the only way to solve it is to combine vigorous border enforcement with a comprehensive overhaul of legal immigration laws.
States like Arizona and, more recently, Alabama are discovering that forcing out illegal immigrants creates more problems than it solves. Illegal immigrants don't come to the United States because we have generous welfare programs -- or even to give birth to U.S. citizens. They come because there are jobs that employers have a hard time filling, even when the unemployment rate is 9 percent or more.
Many of those jobs are in agriculture. Picking fruits and vegetables is backbreaking work. When Alabama passed its tough anti-illegal immigrant law earlier this year, many of the illegal immigrants -- and their legal family members -- fled the state. Despite aggressive efforts to replace those workers, farmers found that there were few takers. And even those who showed up for work didn't last long. As a result, crops rotted in the field. The economic fallout will hurt all Alabamans, not just the illegal aliens who fled.
A few more defeats like Russell Pearce's and maybe Republicans in Congress will smarten up and consider real solutions to the illegal immigrant problem. We need a new legal immigration structure that recognizes the shortage at both the upper and lower skill sets. If we fix our legal immigration, our illegal immigration problem will solve itself.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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