Arizona immigration law: Embarrassment or way forward for Republicans?

With a tough new immigration law in Arizona, Republicans finally find traction on a national issue. The risk for backlash, though, is high.

Arizona State Troopers check the identification of a protester during demonstrations over the signing of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which gives authorities the right to check the citizenship of virtually anyone in front of the Arizona Capital Building in Phoenix.

Despite President Obama calling it "misguided" and given its potential for European-like paper-checking of citizens by police, the tough new Arizona immigration law provides something new for a Republican Party wandering in the wilderness: An impactful idea.

In signing the bill Friday afternoon, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) shook up the political world by calling the new immigration law a solution "to a crisis we did not create, and which the federal government has refused to address."

Taken together with hundreds of other anti-illegal immigration bills proposed and passed by state legislatures in recent years, the Arizona law, which gives police new powers to detain anyone suspected of being illegal, is also a repudiation by sidelined conservatives of George W. Bush's conciliatory stance on immigration.

The health care reform campaign showed that Obama and congressional Democrats felt little need to heed Republican calls for compromise. President Obama took the unusual step Friday of castigating a state law and urging Congress to take up the issue.

But how simpatico Arizona's wild west conservatives are with the rest of the country remains a big question.

"[Obama's reaction to the Arizona law] could cause the issue to heat up to full boil on the national level, with untold consequences for the midterm elections," writes Greg Sargent at the Plum Line blog.

To be sure, Governor Brewer's signature led to immediate outrage and protests in Arizona.

"The only thing this law will do is to make it open season for any immigrant, anybody who does not look Anglo, and it will make actually racial profiling legal in Arizona," Democratic communications strategist Maria Cardona told the CBS "The Early Show on Saturday Morning."

But even given its potential constitutional problems – challenges are sure to crop up before the law goes into effect in August – the law is liable to further energize Republicans going into the November elections.

Arizonan conservatives "[have] had it with the federal government," Republican strategist Bay Buchanan said on "The Early Show on Saturday Morning.”They have refused to do the job and the answer is not amnesty for the 15 to 20 million illegals here."

The sign of Republican leadership on a major national issue could have other effects. Taking up immigration reform at the congressional level to thwart more aggressive state measures against illegal immigration could make Democrats vulnerable. Its base is showing signs of fracturing in battleground states like North Carolina, which also has a high level of illegal immigration.

"Liberals never understood that the fatal decline in Bush's popularity during his second term had at least as much to do with his advocacy of 'comprehensive immigration reform' as with war-weariness," writes John Hinderaker on the Powerline Blog. "Now President Obama has entered the lists, urging Congress to take up immigration. One can only wonder what congressional Democrats make of this. Maybe they figure their own approval ratings can't possibly get any lower. But Obama's can, and they will if he keeps talking about immigration."

That a Republican party entranced by the Constitution-minded "tea party" movement should take a tack that seems to directly compromise the Constitution's demand for freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures may seem paradoxical.

But so is the idea that Hispanics, 68 percent of whom voted for Obama, will automatically oppose tougher illegal immigration laws.

"Our lawmakers need to stop pandering to special interests and do what is right," writes Miguel Cruz in a testimonial for You Don't Speak for Me!, a Hispanic pro-enforcement group. "Enforce our immigration laws, secure our borders and get tough on illegal immigration."

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