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Sponsor of Tough New Arizona Immigration Law a 'Politically Incorrect Embarrassment'

Randal Archibold clearly doesn't approve of the "rightward tilt" of Arizona's Republicans that led to John McCain endorsing the state law, and finds "national civil rights groups and faith leaders" who don't like it either.
Reporter Randal Archibold weighed in on the debate over illegal immigrants in the border state of Arizona in Tuesday's story from Phoenix, "Immigration Bill Reflects A Firebrand's Impact," mocking the legislator behind a new law that would allow police to demand proof of legal entry into the country from anyone they suspect is here illegally.

The Arizona Senate passed one of the most stringent immigration laws in the country on Monday, marking a new level of influence for a Republican state senator who not long ago was seen by many as an eccentric firebrand.

Passage of the law, which would, among other things, allow the authorities to demand proof of legal entry into the United States from anyone suspected of being in the country illegally, testified to the relative lack of political power of Arizona Latinos, and to the hardened views toward illegal immigration among Republican politicians both here and nationally.

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The state senator who wrote the law, Russell Pearce, had long been considered a politically incorrect embarrassment by more moderate members of his party - often to the delight of his supporters. There was the time in 2007 when he appeared in a widely circulated photograph with a man who was a featured speaker at a neo-Nazi conference. (Mr. Pearce said later he did not know of the man's affiliation with the group.)

In 2006, he came under fire for speaking admirably of a 1950s federal deportation program called Operation Wetback, and for sending an e-mail message to supporters that included an attachment - inadvertently, he said - from a white supremacist group.

But Mr. Pearce, 62, cannot be dismissed as just the party's right-wing fringe. As chairman of the Senate's appropriation committee, he controls whose bills are financed, and he has shown an uncanny knack to capitalize on this border state's immigration anxiety.

While surveys show immigration is less of a hot-button issue than it was a few years ago, Republican conservatives still care about the issue. In a New York Times/CBS News poll released last week, 82 percent of self-identified Tea Party supporters said illegal immigration was a "very serious" problem.

Archibold finally addressed some reasons why conservatives and others might be concerned about illegal immigration.

The nightly news here is filled with stories of raids on drop houses filled with immigrants and drug-related shootouts and home invasions. Mexico's drug violence has bloodied Nogales, Sonora, across the border from Nogales, Ariz. And just a couple of weeks ago, a southern Arizona rancher was killed on his property by someone the police suspect was involved in smuggling.

Archibold followed up with a slanted story on the "Caucus" blog Tuesday afternoon:

When Senator John McCain broke his silence Monday on his home state's tough, new immigration enforcement bill, some immigrant advocates wished he had kept quiet and worried that he was backpedaling on what had been one of his signature bipartisan issues.

Perhaps more than anything these days, though, Senator McCain's decision to endorse the measure as a "good tool" signals the rightward tilt of his party and his re-election battle with a conservative primary challenger.

While supporters of the new bill were called "conservative," opponents weren't characterized in ideological terms, but are merely "advocates," "national civil rights groups and faith leaders."

The same advocates who have worked with Mr. McCain in the past have condemned the state law as one derived from intolerance and a recipe for racial and ethnic profiling. Its sponsor has said his larger goal is to rid the state of illegal immigrants.

Frank Sharry, a veteran advocate who worked closely with Mr. McCain on bills in 2006 and 2007, said he was bewildered by the senator's latest position. Mr. McCain had taken pride in bucking conservatives in his party who were lashing him for his push for immigration law changes that would have provided a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

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Opponents of the bill, including national civil rights groups and faith leaders, are seeking to increase pressure on the governor to veto it. On his blog Sunday, Roger Mahony, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, the largest archdiocese, likened the proposed law to "German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques."

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