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Desertion in the desert


In 1994, California conservative activists pushed through Proposition 187, a ballot initiative that prohibited undocumented immigrants from using social services or public education in the state. Legal challenges and the election of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 1998 killed the law, but not before California Latinos were lost to the GOP for generations. 

Indeed, since 1994, Democrats have won all gubernatorial, Senate and presidential elections in the state except for those won by current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (originally elected in a bizarre recall election). In a state that is just slightly over 40 percent white, alienating Latino and Asian immigrant communities has been electoral death for the GOP, with few signs of a turnaround anytime soon.

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Arizona Republicans seem intent on following the same path. The GOP-dominated Arizona legislature last week passed a bill making it a misdemeanor to lack immigration paperwork and requiring police to question people if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that someone is an illegal immigrant. But undocumented white Canadians or Irish need not fear, because “reasonable suspicion” is not-so-veiled code for “brown skin.”

God forbid you are darker-skinned and leave your wallet at home. In modern-day Arizona, that is grounds for jail.

The law also allows citizens to sue cities if “sanctuary policies” limit enforcement of federal immigration law, opening up municipalities to time-draining and expensive lawsuits from politically motivated anti-immigrant activists. The state’s association of police chiefs has opposed the law, in part, because it fears that defending these inevitable lawsuits will drain their time and money.

While Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, isn’t clamoring to sign the bill into law, she’s also not eager to veto it. After all, she has her own primary to survive. Word is she’ll let it pass without her signature. And upon doing so, Arizona will literally say that someone can be arrested for no reason other than not presenting his or her papers.

If this were happening at the federal level, the Tea Party crowd would be in hysterics over this gross assault on “freedom,” but given the target of the law — Latinos — loud approbation is more likely. Indeed, locked in a primary battle against far-right former Rep. J. D. Hayworth, Sen. John McCain (R) has surrendered what remained of his moderation on immigration issues by wholeheartedly supporting this regressive bill.

But while conservatives might pat themselves on the back for passage of this law, the long-term effects shouldn’t be so comforting. Latinos make up 29 percent of Arizona’s population. If current population trends continue, Arizona will become a majority-minority state by 2015. In 2003, more Latino babies were born than non-Hispanic white babies. And by 2007, Latino babies were 45 percent of the total, compared to 41 percent for non-Hispanic whites, and 14 percent for non-Hispanic Asians, Native Americans and African-Americans.

In 2008, Arizona Latinos opted for Obama 56-41, which seems lopsided, but nationally, the number was 67-31 for Obama. Sen. Jon Kyl also got that respectable 41 percent in his 2006 reelection battle. In 2004, John McCain won 74 percent of the Latino vote.

While Arizona Latinos aren’t a solid Democratic voting bloc, this law may very well change that. The Proposition 187 analogy is instructive — the GOP engages in heavy-handed, hateful, discriminatory and partisan demonizing of immigrants at its own electoral peril. As immigrant-rights’ group America’s

Voice said in a statement, “The Arizona State House of Representatives just voted in favor of draconian legislation that declares open season on immigrants and Latinos in the state.”

And as California Republicans can testify, Latinos have long memories.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).