Boston Pops and the Justice Department suit against the Arizona immigration law

Americans as well as immigrants showed up for music and fireworks in Boston on the Fourth of July. In Massachusetts, the immigrants who live here illegally are relatively safe. Not so in nearby Rhode Island. The differences between the two states point to a likely argument in the Justice Department suit against the Arizona law.

Fireworks light up the sky in Boston on July 4th.

Nearly a million people lined up along the Charles River on Sunday to hear the Boston Pops’s Fourth of July concert and to ooh and aah at the fireworks “spectacular” – which was truly spectacular. Have you ever seen a heart-shaped explosive?

Just as spectacular was the variety of languages being spoken at this uniquely American event – Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Russian, you name it – along with a display of national clothing, from Indian women wearing saris to a Japanese woman dressed up in a kimono on a very hot summer evening.

If Boston police were so inclined, they might have nabbed many of these immigrants for being in the US illegally. But they didn’t.

In Massachusetts, the Democratic governor, Deval Patrick, has put a stop to local police working with federal officials in detaining undocumented immigrants.

Just an hour’s drive away in Rhode Island, however, a Republican governor, Donald L. Carcieri, has enouraged police to work with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) whenever they encounter a person who may be here illegally.

The Boston Globe made much of the two states’ differing approaches in an article Tuesday, as immigration plays into the Massachusetts race for governor. The differences are also instructive in light of the US Justice Department’s suit against the Arizona law that mandates police to detain anyone suspected of being an illegal alien. (Express your views on that suit by clicking here.)

One quote in the article illustrates a key argument likely to be used in the Justice complaint against Arizona. An ACLU official asks if police should also enforce federal tax law whenever they stop someone for speeding, say, a young white man driving a Porsche.

This comparision of tax evasion and visa evasion falls apart, however, on at least one level. The IRS can send out an arrest warrant for a specific tax scofflaw while the federal government doesn’t have a clue about the names of most of the 11 million illegal immigrants. With so few agents and so little information, ICE agents need all the help they can get.

But such legal arguments are still to come as Justice gets a hearing in federal court soon. In the meantime, Americans and immigrants (legal and illegal) will continue to mingle in work and play, just as they did in Boston for the Fourth of July weekend in a celebration of freedom.

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