Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that some “high-profile Republicans are adopting a softer vocabulary on immigration” in an effort to woo alienated Latino voters. However, in his bid for reelection, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) hasn’t just toughened up his immigration platform, he’s also adopted a strategy which seems to consist of feigning ignorance of the troublesome civil rights issues that Latinos in his state are facing. In a weekend interview with a local Arizona news station, McCain presented himself as naively optimistic, at best:
HOST: Arizona is getting a national reputation as a latter-day Alabama or Mississippi when it comes to civil rights for Hispanics. Have J.D. Hayworth and his supports gone too far?
MCCAIN: Nah. Look, I don’t think Arizona has that reputation. I think Arizona has a reputation of being the one of the most wonderful places to live, work, and retire –
HOST: If you’re Hispanic?
MCCAIN: Yeah, I think if you’re in this country legally, you are happy to be here. We have a growing Hispanic citizen population here in Arizona. I just do not accept the premise.
McCain is understandably proud and defensive of his home state, however, his oblivious dismissal of the plight of Arizona Latinos demonstrates just how out of touch McCain is with a Latino electorate which used to constitute a large part of his base.
What McCain fails to recognize is that the immigration issue doesn’t draw a neat line between citizens and non-citizens — particularly in Arizona. To begin with, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio has admitted on national television that his officers use “speech, the clothes, the environment, the erratic behavior” to determine if an individual is an undocumented immigrant. That might explain why there are 2,700 lawsuits collecting dust on Arpaio’s desk — many, if not most, filed by Arizona Latino citizens who were mistakenly identified as undocumented immigrants by Arpaio’s deputies before being arrested and denied their most basic civil rights. Even former Arizona Police Chief George Gascon stated that Arpaio’s immigration policing program has brought the “police profession back to the 1950s and 60s.” Arpaio isn’t the only problem facing Latinos. Hate groups and hate crimes are on the rise in Arizona, with 19 hate groups that call the state home. A report by the Arizona Latino Research Enterprise entitled “The State of Latino Arizona” points out:
An increase in hate crimes against Latinos, legislative efforts by ultra-conservative politicians and other public officials, and stepped-up and sometimes abusive law enforcement activities targeting immigrants— including federal legislation that grants local police the authority to enforce immigration law—have added up to a widespread and increasingly institutionalized assault on the rights of Latinos…
“It’s more subtle than it used to be,” said Daniel Ortega, a leading civil rights attorney and community activist in Phoenix. “We find ourselves, as Latinos, whether documented or not, in a social situation in which our civil rights are not being respected.”
In his 2004 Senate re-election, McCain earned more than 70 percent of the Latino vote. However, during the 2008 presidential elections, McCain was unable to even carry the Latino vote of his own state. McCain is right that Arizona is home to a growing population of Latino voters. And if the former maverick doesn’t stand up to his state’s radical right to defend them, McCain runs the risk of being voted out of office and sent back home where he might end up learning firsthand how Latinos are really faring in his state.