Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

EDITORIAL>>Perspective on illegals

The campaign template for every Republican candidate for public office in America this year is supposed to include a plan to stop immigration. Polls show that immigrants are the route to office in 2006, a far better draw than even gay marriage. So Asa Hutchinson, the Republican nominee for governor, is not navigating new waters with his promises to get tough on immigrants who do not have legal papers. We just wish he would be more thoughtful, and practical.

His get-tough plan is to “strengthen the partnership” between Arkansas and federal government agencies on immigration, stop releasing people whom police suspect are aliens when they are stopped for such things as traffic violations, make it harder to hire illegal immigrants and “create more secure identity documents.”

It has never been clear what actions by state employees the plan will require if he is elected governor, but he has embroidered a bit on a couple of the points. For example, he said he would stop the state government from continuing to hire illegal aliens, and yesterday the state Republican Party attacked Mike Beebe for not joining Hutchinson in that vow, implying that Beebe would populate state offices and highway crews with illegals. But if that is a problem, should Hutchinson not be challenging Gov. Huckabee, not Beebe? Huckabee, who is speaking at Hutchinson fundraisers, should be asked why he puts undocumented aliens on the payroll, if he is doing that.

Hutchinson’s central issue is the State Police. Hutchinson wants troopers to start enforcing federal immigration laws because the federal Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration Service do not. The State Police does not really want that job because the troopers are already stretched thin enforcing state laws. The Arkansas Legislature, by a one-vote margin, passed a law 18 months ago requiring the State Police to collaborate with federal authorities to catch and return illegal immigrants. The director of the agency finally came around to say it would be OK, but the police have done little since then to comply. To get certified to make immigration arrests, the troopers must undergo extensive training on federal immigration laws and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to get certified. Hutchinson said that as governor he will see that they get that training.

Florida and Alabama actually did that a couple of years ago. They have arrested only a handful of migrant workers. The reason is that arresting, detaining, identifying and returning illegal foreign workers is messy, complicated and time-consuming.

Arkansas’ overworked police can do little to reverse the traffic of illegal workers from Mexico and other Latin countries unless they abandon other enforcement work or greatly strengthen their forces and outlay. And Hutchinson should be careful of the precedent. What is next? Will state law-enforcement officers enforce the federal tax code and environmental laws, where federal enforcement is notoriously lax? Hutchinson’s last job at Homeland Security was to enforce federal immigration and drug laws, and he has been extensively criticized for failing at it.

Let us hold the president of the United States accountable for enforcing laws that are peculiarly a federal responsibility and try to do well at enforcing our own laws. The feds can raid the country club kitchens, chicken-processing plants and tomato patches and our little band of troopers can patrol the roadways and enforce our own criminal statutes. That is job enough.