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updated: 2/8/2011 3:21 PM

Waiting for the next binge in Arizona

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PHOENIX - Arizona has spent the last several months binging on a cocktail of nativism and fear with a splash of political expediency. Now comes the hangover.

It has been several weeks since I was last in the nation's fifth-largest city as part of the media contingent that descended here for a quick lesson about how not to address the immigration issue. It was early August and U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton had just gutted Arizona's immigration law, preventing the worst parts from going into effect. As a result, local police - who are out of their depth when they attempt to enforce federal immigration law - were mercifully spared the mandate to do so. And mischievous state lawmakers were reminded that, in our system, you don't get to violate the law under the guise of defending it, and those with the itch to make immigration policy ought to run for Congress.

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Now, as the national media have shifted their attention to other stories, I came back to speak about the immigration debate before a gathering of school board members from around the state.

I listened to what people had to say about being on the front lines of a national debate and what they have been going through since the pot boiled over. The first thing I detected was the hard feelings. Tempers are still hot.

The conservatives in the business community resent the conservatives in the nativist fringe for hurting the Arizona brand, scaring off companies that might otherwise relocate and running off the labor force.

Latinos resent Anglos for not being truthful about their motives, which have a lot to do with downsizing the Latino population. Meanwhile, Anglos resent Latinos for putting ethnic tribalism ahead of the best interests of the state.

This being an election year, Republicans resent Democrats for playing the race card as a means of pandering to Latino voters. And Democrats resent Republicans for scoring political points by scaring voters into thinking that drug cartels are smuggling illegal immigrants into Arizona and then beheading their clients in the desert once they get there - which, I imagine, if it were really happening, wouldn't be good for business.

For the record, the beheadings are baloney. In fact, you could say that the one good thing to come out of Gov. Jan Brewer's meltdown during a recent gubernatorial debate is that a few days later, she had to admit the inaccuracy of her claim that authorities had found decapitated bodies in the desert. During the debate, Brewer had been grilled about her assertion by Terry Goddard, her Democratic challenger.

Not that it did Brewer much harm. Polls show she has a commanding 22-point lead. Slightly more than half of respondents in one survey said that Brewer's performance in the debate was either not very important to their decision or not at all important.

Here are two other things that apparently are not so important to Arizona voters: truth and honesty.

I told the school board members that, as someone who lived in Phoenix in the late 1990s, I'm not buying the line that they're selling to the rest of the national media about how the state is the innocent victim of an invasion. That's just a canard that helps let Arizonans off the hook for two decades of hiring the same illegal immigrants they now want nothing to do with.

Meanwhile, Republican politicians want those illegal immigrants out too, but for other reasons. They're worried that the interlopers will have U.S.-born kids who will, in turn, grow up and vote Democratic and change the political landscape just like their parents changed the demographic one.

Not to worry. State Sen. Russell Pearce, who co-authored the state's snakebit immigration law, has that covered. He has announced plans to introduce more bills in January that would, among other things, charge tuition for illegal immigrant children to attend public school and deny state-issued birth certificates to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.

You didn't think the Arizona immigration story was over with? In this state, this is the new normal. After all, as any recovering addict knows, when you have a problem, the next binge is just around the corner.

Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

© 2010, The Washington Post Writers Group

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