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Tom Baxter

“Here Already” voters view immigration in rear-view mirror

By Tom Baxter

They don’t have a catchy name yet, like soccer moms or NASCAR dads, but Latino voters have grown large enough in number, particular in several of the key swing states in this year’s presidential election, that a cliche can only be just around the corner.

Nothing bespeaks the rear-view nature, from a political perspective, of Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Arizona immigration law than a recent USA Today/Gallup poll of what issues these voters are concerned over.

The biggest issue on their minds is health care, which the court will rule on later in the week. Among Latino-Americans as a whole immigration ranks high, but among those registered to vote it’s fifth on the list behind healthcare, unemployment, economic growth, and the gap between rich and poor.

You might call these the “Here Already” voters – affected by the messages being sent in the national debate over immigration, but concerned most with the issues affecting the broad majority of Americans.

Put in a historical frame, Monday’s ruling came the week after the announcement that Asian in-migration to the United States now exceeds that of Hispanics. Out-migration to Mexico may now exceed, by a tiny margin, Mexican in-migration. So many of the conditions which prompted the passage of the Arizona law and its several children, including Georgia, are changing faster than the legal process for addressing the constitutionality of those statutes. In the long run, the immigration decision may not seem as important as the court’s ruling on the same day striking down of Montana’s ban on corporate money in its elections.

Apropos of any split decision in which more court action is sure to come, those with the most reason to crow put on the longest faces.

“A troubling ruling that encourages racial profiling,” said Georgia House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams, referring to the so-called “show your papers” section of the law, the only one of four not to be struck down.

Meanwhile those most disposed to be dejected put on upbeat airs.

“It appears the court has upheld the major thrust of our state’s statute: That states have the right to assist in enforcing federal immigration law,” Gov. Nathan Deal said, in language almost identical to the release put out by the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Matt Ramsey.

The opinion, by Justice Anthony Kennedy, is admirably straightforward as these things go and short enough for anyone to read it. It’s not ambiguous. It recognizes the federal government’s “broad, undoubted power over immigration and alien status.” It leaves the “show your papers” section hanging by the thinnest legal thread, ruling only that the government should not have moved to block it before the state courts had addressed the question, and “without some showing” that the section does, indeed, conflict with federal law.

The court threw out on its face the provision of the Arizona law closest to the section of the Georgia law which makes it a crime to use a phony ID to seek work. The Georgia law was written more broadly, but it’s hard to read that decision as in any way encouraging for its future in court.

Here again, the rear-view mirror. The AJC reports that its investigation turned up no prosecutions on the phony ID law anyway, and only two cases taken up by the hotly-debated Immigration Enforcement Review Board. And the legal bills to join the federal case and defend the legislation these provisions were packaged in? Pricey.

There were a couple of stories this week trumpeting the blueberry’s ascendance over the peach as the state’s top fruit crop. But they were based on 2010 data, the year before the Georgia immigration law was passed, resulting in widespread labor shortages. Blueberries are among the most labor-intensive crops in the state, and they were hit especially hard.

Peach growers can keep guest workers occupied over a longer period of the year, with pruning and so forth, making it more practical for them to comply with the requirements of the federal H2-A guest worker program. Blueberry growers need large numbers of workers over a much shorter period, making it more difficult to work within the law.

Exactly where Monday’s ruling leaves the blueberry growers isn’t clear yet. Regardless, without some larger resolution of the issues surrounding immigrant agricultural labor, which can only come from Washington, they could be left in the rear-view mirror as well.

One parting note on the decision, in light of all the anticipation over the health care decision: The oral arguments in the case weren’t all that reliable a guide to what the court actually did. We’ll see if the same holds true later this week.



Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


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