While I hate to personalize things, Representative Steve Smith (R-Maricopa), who has lived in this state for less time than most of the immigrants I know, makes it hard for anyone who cares about the future of the state to not take offense at his ignorant, shallow, and, with all due respect (which ain’t much), stupid approach to public policy.
His latest outrage is HB 2289, which would require schools to confirm the immigration status of students and to report this to the Arizona Department of Education. There has been no shortage of well-deserved and articulate criticism of the measure, and there is really nothing I can add. Instead, I will focus on Smith’s lame defense of his bill.
Smith has responded to criticism by maintaining that his proposal is simply an innocent effort to gather data. He says that he intends to use these numbers as the basis for “a bill to the federal government for an unfunded mandate.”
This should sound familiar. Years ago, former Governor Janet Napolitano famously made a great show out of invoicing the federal government for expenses the state incurred due to illegal immigration. Back in 2010, with Napolitano now the Secretary of Homeland Security, former Treasurer Dean Martin sent her an identical bill, with interest, to build up his anti-Mexican bonafides in advance of a planned run for Governor. While neither Martin nor Napolitano received a positive response from the federal government, they did get their faces on the teevee and their names in the paper, and isn’t that really all that the immigration issue is about?
In other words, Smith is not doing this in an effort to humiliate or intimidate undocumented immigrant children and their families, he is just trying to set up an empty political stunt, one calculated to continue the ugliness and strife which have made sane discussion of immigration issues impossible. And he wants to do this at the expense of school districts that are already cash-strapped. That is so much better, isn’t it?
Another Smith bill, HB 2293, similarly requires hospitals to screen patients for immigration status and contact law enforcement about anybody who is questionable. In this case, Smith maintains that he is merely concerned about the burden imposed by “the uninsured.” Of course, it should be noted that most of the uninsured are citizens, but this fact merely gets in the way of his grandstanding and points out that he has no interest in contributing anything of substance to the public discussion.
Though he is a favorite of a certain vocal faction of party activists who used to belong to former State Senate President Russell Pearce, Smith’s bid to become Speaker failed last November, and according to the current conventional wisdom the Republican party as a whole has decided that such demagoguery on immigration is no longer a winning formula, so it may well be that these bills are going nowhere. The extent to which Smith, and more importantly, his rhetoric, is further marginalized within his caucus, will tell us a lot about how serious Republicans really are about moving forward on immigration reform.