Next week, Georgia voters will go to the polls to vote in a statewide primary election that will decide nominees for various statewide offices for both the Democratic and Republican parties. Yesterday, the Democratic contenders for the gubernatorial nomination in Georgia debated a variety of issues before a televised audience in Atlanta.
At one point of the debate, the moderator turned to the issue of Arizona’s radical new immigration law. When asked what he thought about the law and the Obama administration’s decision to sue Arizona for enacting it, former Democratic governor Roy Barnes said that he would sign a similar bill if it were passed in Georgia, and he criticized the administration’s decision to litigate the issue:
Democratic gubernatorial front-runner Roy Barnes said Friday he would sign immigration legislation similar to what Arizona passed if he is elected, adding he disagreed with the Obama administration’s decision to sue over the law.
Barnes, in a debate sponsored by WSB-TV, said state officials are already enforcing some federal laws, a key element of the Arizona law that empowers local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws.
“Would I sign a law that had some of those elements? I would,’’ Barnes said. “But I would want to make sure it was not a racially profiling bill.”
Barnes also said he doesn’t believe “the United States government should sue any state.’’ “I don’t think that’s appropriate,’’ Barnes said.
In endorsing the Arizona law, Barnes staked out a much more anti-immigrant position than his fellow candidates. Attorney General Thurbert Baker said that enforcing immigration “can’t be a state responsibility,” but that he would “entertain” a new immigration law. House Minority Leader DuBose Porter and former Labor Commissioner David Poythress both said they would hold off on commenting about an Arizona-style law until after the decision is announced in the federal government’s lawsuit against Arizona. (In the past, Poythress compared Arizona’s law to the Soviet Union.)
But Barnes’ position doesn’t just conflict with those of his fellow candidates, but also with his own past statements. In a debate held just last month, Barnes slammed the Republicans for making the law the “dominant issue” and for “distracting” from other important matters. He emphasized the need for a “national solution”:
“There are some parts that I can go along with. Local governments enforce federal laws all the time. Police officers arrest folks for federal laws all the time. So I don’t have any problem with that part. Now, you have to be careful not to be racial profiling. I think there’s a balance there.
“But let me tell you this. This seems to be the dominant issue over on the Republican side. It’s a little distracting. I’ll be quite frank with y’all. The army of Georgia is not big enough to march to the Rio Grande river, stopping folks from coming across. I might could stop those Alabamians from swimming across the Chattahoochee. You have to push for some sort of national solution.”
As President Obama has said, the Arizona law is “ill-conceived” and drives a “wedge between communities and law enforcement, making our streets more dangerous and the jobs of our police officers more difficult.” If Barnes is truly concerned about the immigration issue, he should push for comprehensive immigration reform, just as he did last month, and abandon support for such a radical and ultimately ineffective law.