The Battle over Arizona

The Battle over Arizona

Kelefa Sanneh's specious attack on Arizona's immigration law reveals his extremism—and his willingness to distort reality.

The New Yorker is a Far-Left magazine that often seeks to shroud its ideology through cleverly crafted articles notable for their modulated prose style and pretense of evenhanded thoroughness. But sometimes articles appear in which the formula slips, and the true intent of the author is exposed. Jane Mayer’s oft-quoted piece on the conservative industrialists David and Charles Koch comes to mind. But seldom has the magazine presented an article in which the author’s ideological intent has been more nakedly plain than in Kelefa Sanneh’s exploration of the illegal-immigration issue in Arizona (“Raging Arizona: How a border state became a battleground,” May 28).

He employs the usual New Yorker tactic of portraying the liberal characters as heroes while the conservatives come off as bumbling or worse. But he lacks the magazine’s usual finesse, which renders the tactic transparent. We also see the adroit arrangement of facts, designed to get the reader on his side before he carefully parcels out the opposing elements of the story. But again, it’s ham-handedly obvious. There’s the usual efforts to elide inconvenient facts and skirt questions that, to any skeptic, beg for answers.

But then, before he can complete his writing task, Sanneh simply loses patience with the whole charade, tosses aside the pretense and declares his own position in all of its elemental extremism.

Arizona has indeed become a battleground, as the magazine’s title suggests. In the immigration controversy that grips the nation, this is ground zero, where the problem is most acute and citizens on both sides are most impassioned. The issue cries out for dispassionate exposition that captures the tragic nature of the predicament, the inevitable emotions generated on all sides, the profound challenge it poses to the country’s governmental system. Such a dispassionate exposition would not begin with an assumption that Arizonans concerned or angry about the influx of illegals are “crazies.”

But that’s how Sanneh’s narrative hero, Richard Carmona, views them, according to Sanneh, notwithstanding that these “crazies” represent a majority of the state’s citizens. Carmona, a medical doctor and former U.S. surgeon general, is the Democrat seeking the Senate seat of retiring Republican Senator Jon Kyl, and Sanneh suggests—utterly implausibly—that he “may represent the Party’s best chance to pick up a Senate seat in November” (three states currently are more likely to do so). More plausibly, he is the Democrat whose senatorial campaign most frontally attacks the voters he is seeking to represent in Congress.

When Carmona travels around the country and tells people where he is from, says Sanneh, there is an inevitable “Ooohh” from the audience, suggesting it considers such a place eerie. Carmona explains further: “And then they start asking me questions about border fences, and electrical fences, and deporting people.” Sanneh adds that when Carmona says he’s fighting against his state’s “painfully malicious” immigration policies, “he doesn’t have to explain what he’s talking about.”

This is clever journalism—and entirely false. It implies that Arizona is a pariah state because it enacted a law called S.B. 1070, which empowered law enforcement to check people’s immigration status based on “reasonable suspicion” and various violations of federal law. It’s a controversial law, and the Supreme Court will shortly determine its constitutionality. But, if Arizona is a pariah state as reflected in Carmona’s stump experiences, how is it that a Rasmussen poll showed that 60 percent of Americans favor the S.B. 1070 approach, while only 31 percent oppose it? And why did a New York Times/CBS poll find that 51 percent of national respondents considered the law “about right,” while 36 percent felt it went “too far”—and 9 percent felt it didn’t go far enough (hence, the same 60 percent)? And why did an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll find that 71 percent of Americans wanted their own states to adopt similar legislation?

Sanneh does own up to the fact that it isn’t “quite accurate to say that S.B. 1070 is unpopular in Arizona.” But instead of providing poll numbers that would quantify this reality, he glides to a passage saying many Republican politicians have refrained from embracing it with enthusiasm. What he doesn’t say is that this is not uncommon in politicians seeking to maneuver around highly emotional issues. Indeed, later, in discussing some GOP pols’ efforts to get right with Arizona voters, he quotes Carmona saying this is merely political cynicism. Referring to Jeff Flake, Carmona’s likely Republican opponent, Sanneh quotes Carmona as saying, “He has to appease the extreme right” in his primary. Again, the implication is that mainstream Arizona sentiment is actually extremist. The article is laced with such deft passages.

But Sanneh gives his game away with his rendition of historical events surrounding the U.S. acquisition of the territory that now encompasses Arizona—in the treaty that followed the Mexican War and the subsequent Gadsden Purchase. He says that “the border was pushed south, turning disputed Mexican territories into disputed American ones.”

This is entirely specious. There was no dispute about Mexico’s claim to that land before those agreements, and there was no dispute afterward about the U.S. territorial claim. Sanneh writes, “Natives were treated as illegal aliens, unlawfully present on the settlers’ land.” This is demonstrably and egregiously false. In fact, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican War, specifically stipulated that Mexicans living in the ceded territories could stay or leave at their own volition. Those leaving would not be taxed for any property taken with them, and those staying would become U.S. citizens after a year unless they stipulated a desire to remain Mexican citizens. The United States assumed responsibility for Indian tribes in the ceded lands, including the burden of protecting Mexico from cross-border raids.

Sanneh exposes his own thinking most starkly in responding to a question from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during oral arguments on the Arizona bill. Scalia asked why anyone would object to actions designed to identify people “who have no business being here.” Surely, he said, “you’re not concerned about harassing them?”

The correct answer, writes Sanneh, is yes. He adds:

The movement against S.B. 1070 is concerned precisely with the harassment of people currently deemed to have “no business” in the state, or in the country. The inclusive logic of the immigration-rights movement suggests that everyone in the country has a right to be here—which implies that everyone not in the country has the right to come here, too, preferably without being made to run a potentially lethal obstacle course in the Arizona desert.

He adds that “it’s hard to imagine any immigration restriction that could be considered truly compassionate.” After all, even a guest-worker program would merely “make their second-class status explicit.” Then comes thecoup de grâce: “There is no way to reconcile the liberal ideal of equality with the fundamental inequality of American citizenship, a valuable asset disproportionately distributed to some of the richest people on the planet.”

Whew! This is what the passion for equality has come to—a conviction that nobody in the world should be deprived of the right and value of American citizenship. Hence, there should be no U.S. borders; hence, there would be no definable U.S. citizenship; hence, there would be no United States as we know it.

It’s difficult to imagine any passage in all of Karl Marx’s writings that would be more dangerous to America than this sentiment, should it become a prevailing view of the country’s future. And it’s difficult to comprehend what would drive such a young man as Sanneh, himself an immigrant, to project, in all apparent sincerity, an outlook that negates the very concept of citizenship within the nation he has adopted. Then there is the question of the New Yorker and the underlying philosophy of those who would foster such an assault on the identity of their nation.

Whatever the answer to these mystifying questions, it’s at least heartening to know that 60 percent of Americans favor Arizona’s S.B. 1070 and that the good people of that state aren’t really “crazies,” notwithstanding the crude analytical musings of their Democratic senatorial candidate and his New Yorker hagiographer.

Robert W. Merry is editor of The National Interest and the author of books on American history and foreign policy. His next book, Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians, is due out on June 26 from Simon & Schuster.

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