Conservative commentators, such as Bill Kristol and George Will, have generally rushed to the defense of Arizona's harsh new law to make local law-enforcement officers act as de facto border patrol. But Matt Lewis, a staunchly conservative but independent-minded and intellectually honest columnist at the Daily Caller, dares to dissent from the party line. Lewis supports stricter border control and does not worry about the illegal immigrants being subjected to requests for their documents since they are by definition breaking the law. But he does think that conservatives who claim to fear the expansion of government power ought not to cheer a law that allows, much less encourages, cops to harass law-abiding U.S. citizens who happen to be Hispanic.
Illegals don’t advertise their immigration status publicly, and while the law specifically prohibits the police from solely considering race, one can imagine the Arizona police won’t be pulling aside many Canadians, Brits or Swedes for this sort of interrogation.
More likely, the criteria for questioning will include both class and race, meaning that if a Mexican-American lawyer walks down the street in a nice business suit, he’s probably okay, but the law-abiding Mexican-American landscaper may get hassled on a daily basis.
But the truly ironic thing about this debate is that many of the conservatives supporting this law are the very same folks worried about big government’s intrusion into their lives.
I'd be interested to know whether Lewis's concern for civil liberties extends to, say, American citizens arrested by the government as enemy combatants and held in Guantánamo Bay without charge, but his point stands: no movement that claims to support individual liberty can support Arizona's immigration law. And, as Lewis argues, supporting law and order is not mutually exclusive with respecting individual liberty. The conservative movement is supposed to stand for both, although its concern for the latter has often seemed lacking in recent years.