By Kristina Wong
Sarah Palin had been heretofore fairly silent on the issue of immigration. This week for the first time, however, she has been outspoken, making at least five recent public statements on the issue and coming out in full support of Arizona's controversial new immigration law.
She even encouraged other states to adopt similar laws.
"I think every other state on the border should emulate what Arizona has done," she said on FOX News Wednesday night. "Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, has taken upon herself, her state government, to do what the feds should have been doing all along and say, 'No, we're going to secure this border.'
"From there, then, once that is taken care of, we can deal with those who are here illegally and we can figure out all that immigration reform that needs to take place. Yes, other states should do what Arizona is doing," she said.
She posted on her Facebook page Tuesday about immigration for the second time in a week.
"Arizonans have the courage to do what the Obama administration has failed to do in its first year and a half in office, namely secure our border and enforce our federal laws," she wrote. "And as a result, Arizonans have been subjected to a campaign of baseless accusations by the same people who freely admit they haven't a clue about what they're actually campaigning against."
A Palin spokesperson declined to comment for this story.
The former Alaska governor sparked controversy Saturday with her comments at a campaign event for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
"Now this state has enacted a law -- it mirrors the federal law -- which allows police to ask those they otherwise have stopped to provide a driver's license or other verification of legal presence. I think for most American people the reaction to this would be, 'Why haven't the police already been doing that?'" Palin asked the crowd.
She encouraged the Highland Park High School girls basketball team the week before to "go rogue" after school administrators canceled its participation in an Arizona tournament, citing safety concerns and the state's new immigration law.
She later posted on Facebook: "These boycotts of Arizona will not help the state or lead to positive change. Economic and political boycotts of our nation's 48th state will hurt all Arizonans, including all members of the Hispanic community."
Palin's back-to-back flurry of comments marked her public entry into an issue that had not previously been a prominent part of her conservative mix of issues, which included energy, fiscal conservatism and small government.
"She had actually been fairly positive about immigration reform as a vice presidential candidate," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voices, a liberal-leaning immigration reform group that immediately criticized Palin.
"When she decided to embrace the Arizona show-me-your-papers law, we thought it justified criticizing her for embracing a law that institutionalized racial and ethnic discrimination," Sharry said.
A Palin Change of Heart?
As a vice-presidential candidate, Palin told Spanish-language television network Univision during an interview Oct. 26, 2008, "There is no way that in the U.S. we would roundup every illegal immigrant ... there are about 12 million of the illegal immigrants. ... Not only economically is that just an impossibility but that's not a humane way anyway to deal with the issue."
Her GOP presidential running mate, Sen. John McCain, had taken a similar stance, arguing for a comprehensive immigration plan, a multi-faceted approach that includes border patrol, a crackdown on illegal hiring, legalizing immigrants already in the United States and creating a more flexible immigration system. The Arizona law and its more stringent provisions were not part of the national debate at the time.
But Palin came out last Saturday in clear support of Arizona's new law, which would be the most robust in the nation in terms of targeting people suspected of being illegal immigrants. The law is set to take effect July 29, barring any successful legal challenges.
Sharry said Palin's comments risk alienating Latino voters, the fastest-growing group of voters, from the Republican Party. Latino voter registration grew 54 percent and turnout grew 64 percent from 2000 to 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Republican President George W. Bush and Republican political strategist Karl Rove had made inroads with Latinos in 2000 and 2004 in key states such as Florida, Sharry said, where Latino voters backed Bush over Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts by a 12 point margin in 2004.
But, Sharry said, "The Republican party has now become branded among Latino immigrants as the 'party that hates us.'"
According to a report by America's Voices, Latinos will make a difference in 42 races in 12 states in the upcoming 2010 mid-term gubernatorial, Senate and House races: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.
"Someone like Sarah Palin or John McCain or Mitt Romney should stand up and say, 'Stop the madness, stop the political suicide,'" Sharry said.
Alfonso Aguilar, executive director for the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said liberals were trying to use the Arizona law to unfairly attack Republicans, when it's really Democrats who have failed to act on immigration laws.
"They know Latinos are mad at them [Democrats], so they're trying to use Arizona to drive a wedge, to say, 'You know what, Republicans don't like Latinos," Aguilar said. "Sadly, they know that the reason why we have the law in Arizona is because Barack Obama has not dealt with immigration as he said he would during the campaign. He has absolutely failed the Latino community."
Aguilar said that although he doesn't support the law, reaction to it has been exaggerated.
"I'm not a fan of Arizona law, but to say that the bill will lead to systematic and mass discrimination is an outright lie," he said.
He added that attempts to pit Latinos against Republicans would backfire within the Latino community.
"Latinos don't like to be treated in a condescending way," he said. "They're not going to respond to those tactics, and I think it's going to backfire."