Arizona's campaign against Mexican immigrants seems to intensify with every passing week. This latest round of escalation, however, has even some proponents of getting tough on illegal immigrants wondering if it's just gone a bit too far.
The state has been at the very epicenter of America's immigration debate ever since the passage of Senate Bill 1070, which allows police the right to detain anyone suspected of being undocumented. In spite of the rapid, loud backlash against the move, from all appearances the laws have only sparked greater emphasis on -- and increased hatred of -- immigrants in public life.
Enter former Republican State Representative Barry Wong, who hopes to win a job atop the Arizona Corporation Commission, which oversees the state's utilities.
His plan to get elected: promise to cut off electricity, water and gas to all illegal immigrants, even though his idea is completely unenforceable.
"I'm sure there will be criticism about human-rights violations," Wong said, according to the New York Daily News. "Is power or natural gas or any type of utility we regulate, is that a right that people have? It is not a right. It is a service."
Wong contends that if undocumented customers were cut off from utility service, the overall costs paid by citizens would go down. That service, however, is paid for by each customer -- or it gets cut off. How costs could be lowered by mandating the Arizona Corporation Commission shrink its customer base yet continue maintaining its current infrastructure, he does not explain.
It's not as if the particulars, like legality, matter much in this case. Over at The Arizona Republic, E. J. Montin opines that Wong's cynical move is likely to get him elected, and likely to further escalate politicians' efforts to appease supporters of the state's immigrant crackdown.
Any day now I'd expect some political candidate to suggest bus drivers and light-rail engineers check the immigration status of anyone attempting to use public transit.
And what about grocery or convenience stores?
Perhaps only citizens should be permitted to purchase breakfast cereal, canned corn, ground beef or milk.
Gasoline? How about a law requiring drivers to show their papers before filling up?
Same with clothing stores, hardware stores, even pet stores. Should we ban Chihuahuas?
And what about health care?
Even the CEO of Arizona's Chamber of Commerce -- which supports the primary backers of the immigrant crackdown but has sued over enforcing the laws on employers -- took issue with Wong's idea, calling it "a new low" in the state's debate.
The Arizona Daily Star illustrated Wong's conundrum another way:
Are utility companies supposed to verify the citizenship status of every person using the electricity? If the intent is to save money by trimming the number of people using the utility services, shouldn't the state force these private businesses to enforce federal laws? Would agents from the utility companies have to go door to door making sure that the people enjoying air conditioning or using a lamp to read are here legally?
If Wong's concern is, as he says, that illegal immigrants are fueling demand, which in turn requires expensive infrastructure expansions, then Arizona should seal all of its borders and not let anyone in from any other state. If it's purely a numbers thing, then all the ACC should care about is keeping the number of consumers down - the power lines don't know if they're transmitting electricity to a person born in Maricopa County, Helsinki or Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Wong is also part of a Republican "cabal," according to the Tuscon Citizen, that wants to eliminate U.S. citizenship by birth. However, in a stroke of sheer irony, Wong himself is what his GOP colleagues have called an "anchor baby," born to a Chinese family, whose whole public life has been largely financed by immigrant dollars, first through a family-owned market, then as a landlord who rents to immigrants.
Speaking to an ABC affiliate in Tuscon, Wong's Democratic opponent, State Rep. David Bradley, called the idea "ludicrous."
"What's next?" he asked. "Are we going to cut off milk? Should we have Circle K not sell immigrants milk?"
Ultimately, the discussion may be nothing more than smoke and mirrors. According to The New York Daily News, Gary Pierce, who sits on the Arizona Corporation Commission, dismissed Wong's ambitions.
"That's not an argument I think we'll involve ourselves in," he said.
Arizona's new immigration laws go into effect on July 29. According to recent polls, an overwhelming majority of the state supports the crackdown.
This video is from Fox News, broadcast Thursday, July 1, 2010.