Monday, August 2, 2010

Cuccinelli, health care and driving while brown

Monday was a big day for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, quickly becoming one of the darlings of the Tea Party nationwide.

First, a federal judge refused to throw out Cuccinelli's challenge to the federal health care reform law. That sets up an October court hearing on the  constitutionality of the law.

Although hailed as a huge victory in the Republican blogosphere and on Fox News, the ruling was really a procedural matter. It was also made by a Bush-appointed judge considered something of a right-winger and who, according to Huffington Post, may have financial ties to Cuccinelli.

The judge ruled that because the passage of the federal health insurance reform law directly conflicted with a law passed by the General Assembly this year --in anticipation of the federal legislation -- that asserted that Virginia citizens could not be compelled to buy health insurance, Cuccinelli had standing to bring a lawsuit in defense of Virginia's law. The judge also ruled against claims by the federal government that the suit was not "ripe" because the health care reform legislation will not take effect until 2014.

That sets up a showdown likely to end up in the Supreme Court.

It also sets up Cuccinelli to become a hero to the anti-Obama Tea Party movement nationwide, enhancing his chances for election to future state or national office.

The state law that conflicts with the health care reform bill is the handiwork of Cuccinelli ally Del. Bob Mashall (R-Manassas). Marshall was also involved in  the other Cuccinelli action that made national news Monday. At the request of Marshall, Cuccinelli issued an opinion that law enforcement officers in Virginia have the authority to inquire into the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest. That's the issue in question in Arizona's controversial immigration bill, often called the "driving while brown" bill, parts of which were thrown out by a federal judge last week.

Cuccinelli's opinion is that Virginia's officers already have that authority, they don't need a new law.

An attorney general's opinion in Virginia generally has the status of law until there is an actual court ruling on the issue. So, Virginia police could feel justified in acting on Cuccinelli's opinion until the issue is litigated.

While it will no doubt endear him further to the Tea Party, Cuccinelli's opinion is bad for the state and bad for the nation were it to be upheld.

Probable cause? The presumption of innocence? Nah. We don't need those if they conflict with xenophobia against brown people. After all, they are the latest scapegoats.

The problem with the Arizona law, and Cuccinelli's attempt to impose the same rules on Virginia without a new statute, are that while it appeals to nativism and racism, it doesn't address the causes of the very real illegal immigration problem.

The United States does need to get control of its borders. A sovereign nation needs a way to control who enters and leaves and who is and isn't a citizen. The ready supply of cheap illegal labor drives down wages for every American worker, as well. But "arrested for driving while brown" laws aren't the way to go.

Advocates of such measures act as if there are hordes of brown people on our southern border who want to come to America for no other reason than to illegally flout our immigration laws.

The fact is that illegal immigrants are lured, you could even say invited, by American companies that provide them with jobs in return for their working for wages that, while lavish by Mexican standards, aren't enough for Americans.

Some of our largest companies, like Walmart, and some large regional employers, like Smithfield, have been implicated in hiring illegal workers.

Until there are real sanctions against such companies to change their behavior, all the laws in the world harassing folks who look vaguely Hispanic or have Spanish last names, aren't going to solve the illegal immigration problem.

It's demand driven. If there were no jobs here for illegal immigrants, there would be no illegal immigration. As long as their are abundant jobs here for illegal immigrants, they will continue to flood across the border. That's a rational economic decision on their part. Poverty on one side of the border or relative affluence on the other? That's a fairly easy choice.

I suspect that Cuccinelli and other later day Know-Nothing politicans who are advocating "arrested for driving while brown" solutions know they won't solve the problem. They are merely currying favor with voters by appealing to easily aroused nativist and racist sentiments. Those sentiments are easier to arouse in times when the economy is bad, as it is now. And, if you represent the party that was in charge when the economy turned south and you want voters to put you in charge again, distracting them with the illegal immigrant issue is probably a good way to go.

It doesn't do anything to address the real problem. I doubt even the most avid Tea Partier really believes that state and local authorities are going to round up the 20 million illegals estimated to be in the country. And if they did, they don't have the jail space to hold them and the federal government doesn't have the time or money it would take to deport them all.

If the Tea Party was really interested in decreasing the number of illegal immigrants in the country, it would support measures to penalize employers to dry up the supply of available jobs open to illegals. If their prospects for a job disappear, many illegals will return to their own country.

But the same legislators likely to push "driving while brown" legislation are the ones who'd be first in line to denounce any sanctions on companies employing illegals as "anti-business" or even "socialist."

So let's not pretend this interest in illegal immigration is anything but what it is -- a cynical ploy to attract the votes of bigots.

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