Commentary: NAACP's immigration idea is on target

Mary Sanchez is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.
Mary Sanchez is a columnist for the Kansas City Star. MCT

"We should organize a protest."

I'm not much for demonstrations, but these were words to lift the soul.

It was the instinctive reaction of a national NAACP official who had just learned Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona will appear today in Overland Park.

Arpaio is the rogue sheriff of Maricopa County being investigated for his retaliatory tactics against elected officials in Phoenix and his zest for volunteer "posses" to scour Latino neighborhoods for illegal immigrants.

Arpaio is drumming up funds for Kris Kobach's GOP run for Kansas secretary of state. Ante up $250 and get a photo with Arpaio and "deputy" status.

Good-hearted people are organizing a counter-vigil, but neither the event nor the reaction will change many minds. When it comes to immigration, Americans are pretty well dug in along the lines of their beliefs. Rarely does anyone venture out to gather additional information that might alter their views.

They just lob one-liners such as, "What part of illegal don't you understand?"

This is never uttered by people well versed about the wide array of visas, the impossibility of immigrating legally as a low-wage worker, the complexity of immigration courts and our quagmires of backlogged paperwork. They know better.

While I'm cheered that NAACP leadership is discussing a response to Arpaio while in Kansas City for their convention, it's hardly critical. They've already stepped up. The NAACP is behind some of the legal challenges to Arizona's new immigration law, of which Kobach was an author.

Besides, the real place for the NAACP's voice is on Capitol Hill, encouraging Congress to stop waffling on overhauling our immigration systems.

The NAACP is not "pro-illegal immigration" or in support of "open borders" or any of the other simplistic phrasings often used by those who wish to appear tough on illegal immigration. But many of their concerns coincide with the rational mindsets of police chiefs opposed to law enforcement being forced into becoming federal immigration agents.

And it is not because sane people don't want to solve the problems of having 10 million people illegally in the country. They don't want to make scapegoats, just humane and long-term changes that provide for labor needs and the nation's security.

You won't find those answers at an "Illegal Means Illegal" snap-your-picture-with-Arpaio rally.

Historical precedent exists for African-Americans and Latinos to ally. Thurgood Marshall laid legal groundwork for the Brown ruling in a case to improve educational opportunities for Latinos.

The NAACP understands standing firm for the long haul. Arpaio is here for one night of political theater.

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