Immigration debate not first divisive issue

It’s nothing short of civil war, according to Al Kreiger. The Yuma, Ariz., mayor told a forum on immigration last week that the issue of immigration enforcement authority has torn this country in two. Kreiger noted that such wars occur when state and federal governments are at odds.

“We basically have an undeclared civil war today,” he said.

We’ll let others assess just how civil it actually is. What is clear, however, is that passions, and blood pressures, are high over this issue, and it has spread beyond our own boundaries.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer recently canceled the annual Border Governor’s Conference, scheduled for September in Phoenix, after Mexico’s six border governors announced they wouldn’t attend, in protest of Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, which requires state and local law enforcement officials to demand proof of legal residency “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.”

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has set up Santa Fe as an alternate site for the conference, which he and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said is needed to address several serious issues concerning the border. The Mexican governors had asked for an alternate site and are expected to attend. Schwarzenegger’s office already has said he’ll be there.

Americans are lining up on both sides of the issue. The first of seven lawsuits challenging the Arizona law — including one filed by the federal government — already is in the courts. The law is scheduled to go into effect July 29 unless an injunction stops its implementation. The suits have been filed, in addition to the federal government, by religious and civil rights groups as well as police officers, who could be sued if people aren’t satisfied with the severity with which they enforce the law.

On the other side, nine state governments have filed court briefs supporting the Arizona law, and thousands of people have given more than $1 million to a fund set up to help Arizona defray the costs of the legal challenges.

But to suggest our nation has been split asunder, as in a real civil war, is a bit extreme. This isn’t the first issue to lead to impassioned face-offs. Similar arguments have arisen over U.S. military actions in foreign countries and over abortion, for example.

It could be argued our society needs the occasional jolt these debates can create. They certainly force many people to face the issues, and motivate many to shake off their apathy and become more involved in the issues that affect their daily lives. Such citizen involvement generally is a good thing.

This battle, like other tests our country has faced, could make us stronger, or show the strength we already have.