Headline news these days tends to have at least one leading item from the ongoing political and social battle over Arizona’s new immigration law. Big media are piling on with criticism of the law and mostly for what it may hypothetically lead to. But in an honest moment, at least some of them turn around and admit that what it does…..is apply existing federal law.

Two examples…

This Chicago Tribune editorial calls it an “Allowable error.” First they lead with this:

President Barack Obama’s administration and a host of other critics have lambasted Arizona’s new law allowing police to question individuals they suspect of being in the country illegally. The president says the new policy endangers “basic notions of fairness.” That’s a sound criticism of a misguided law.

But then the editors go through the arguments against the law and basically rebut each of them. (Just one example: “But just because the statute affects illegal immigrants doesn’t mean Arizona is out of line.”)

They speculate what the Justice Department may do to halt the law, one way or another.

But those arguments are shaky on both legal and political grounds. All Arizona is doing, after all, is shoring up enforcement of laws enacted by the federal government.

So….why call it misguided in the lead?

Let’s look at the esteemed analysis on this in The Economist. Similar story. “Fools rush in“, sub-headed “A bill so bad that it may yet do good”.

It begins with a recap of the 2005-2006 fiasco when immigration rallies where breaking out across the nation and Congress couldn’t get anything done, whatsoever, to make any progress on any acceptable law or even a path forward. It stalemated and fizzled away.

Now it is all happening again. Until now, the detection of illegal immigrants has invariably been a matter for the federal authorities. Republican-governed Arizona has just enacted a tough new law of its own: it requires state police to check the papers of anyone whose immigration status they have “reasonable” cause to doubt. Opponents say this is sure to lead to racial profiling. The bill is popular with angry white locals, so much so that the previously reform-minded John McCain, who is running for re-election to the Senate in Arizona, has not dared to oppose it. But in a country that is turning Hispanic at a rapid rate (by mid-century white Anglos will be another minority), the Republicans are once again hellbent on being on the wrong side of demography. The backlash will surely last longer than any bump in popularity gained by looking tough.

But then Leader turns around and says this:

For those who yearn for America to have a sensible immigration policy, the Arizona bill is a reason for both despair and hope.

And both, because “this is the toughest such bill ever passed in America.”

The bill is such a shocker that it is restarting the national debate. The Arizona law passed largely because the government is failing to do its job. The border is not secure; employers can and do hire people who have no legal right to be in America; and cross-border crime is on the rise. Better enforcement is needed. But on both political and moral grounds, better enforcement can only be part of a comprehensive immigration reform.

And it appears Arizona just kick-started the engine to drive that.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....