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Paying a political price

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The misadventures of illegal immigrant bashers

By Hal Rhodes

From the campaign trails to state legislatures, wherever you cast your gaze in this benighted nation, you’ll likely find a bit of illegal-immigrant bashing at work.
During their campaigns last year, two New Mexico politicos, each in her own way, played the undocumented-worker card so effectively as to help them become the highest ranking women holding public office in New Mexico today.
Since then, the political payoffs Gov. Susana Martinez and Secretary of State Diana Duran sought from their tough-on-illegal-immigrants postures have proved modest at best.
Twice in the past 10 months at two sessions of the legislature, Martinez failed in her efforts to repeal a law allowing illegals to apply for driver’s licenses.
And when she tried unilaterally to crack down on the practice, the governor found herself stymied in court.
Secretary of State Duran, in turn, had egg on her face last week after failing to vindicate her campaign charges that state voter rolls were awash with illegals.
Yet after eight months of investigation, Duran had to acknowledge that only two foreign nationals were found on the rolls.
One of those individuals had never voted. The other, Duran conceded, was unaware that he had done anything wrong.
What we have here might be called New Mexico’s version of what looks to be a backlash against various states’ efforts to “get tough” on illegal immigrants.
Nowhere is that backlash more evident than in Arizona, where voters last week recalled state Senate President Russell Pearce, a Republican/Tea Party favorite who was the architect of that state’s infamous anti-immigration law.
Pearce surely knew his head was on the chopping block of many Arizona voters. In a letter soon after his controversial measure went into effect, no fewer than 60 of his state’s top CEOs chastised him for the economic woes inflicted by his new law.
“It is an undeniable fact,” they wrote in a letter to him, “that each of our companies and our employees were impacted by the boycotts and coincident negative image” Arizona garnered because of Pearce’s law.
In Alabama where a variation on the Arizona law was enacted, angry farmers were reduced to plowing under whole fields of tomato and bean crops after Hispanic workers fled to avoid the long arm of the new law.
Estimates of the loss to Alabama’s agricultural economy run upwards of $40 million, and among the groups critical of the politicians who inflicted these problems on their state are such traditional conservative bastions as local farm bureaus and small town chambers of commerce.
The situation is no better in Alabama’s neighbor to the west, Georgia, where yet another variation on the Arizona anti-immigrant law was enacted.
There, as elsewhere, proponents of the new law maintained that the flood of undocumented workers from south of the border had robbed U.S. workers of jobs that otherwise would be theirs.
Yet after immigrant field hands fled the state out of fear of the new Georgia law, few U.S. workers came forward to claim the jobs that were theirs for the asking.
The backlash was palpable and down at the agricultural grassroots political unrest was evident.
It was, after all, the conservative Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association that came forward with an estimate finding the tough-on-undocumented workers law to have cost the state “at least $250 million”… and counting.
In New Mexico, the economic and political impact of Gov. Martinez’s and Secretary of State Duran’s feckless illegal immigrant maneuvers have been small compared to the damages inflicted by their counterparts in Arizona, Georgia and Alabama.
Sometimes we’re the better for it when our pols emerge from their misadventures empty handed.

Hal Rhodes
© New Mexico
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