Commentary: Florida doesn't need Arizona-style immigration laws

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. Just one day after he unveiled a harsh Arizona-style immigration proposal for Florida, Attorney General Bill McCollum was obliged to backpedal, conceding a need to consult with "my supporters in the Hispanic community" about the provisions in his punitive and potentially unconstitutional measure.

That came after U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a co-chair of Mr. McCollum's Hispanic leadership team in his race for governor, pronounced herself "blindsided" and "disappointed." Other prominent Hispanic Republicans backed away from the proposal, as well, and at least one well-known fundraiser declared she would "not lift a finger or raise one additional dollar" for his campaign.

If Mr. McCollum, whom The Miami Herald's Editorial Board recommends in the Republican primary, thinks this is the way to seize the initiative on a hot-button issue away from mega-bucks challenger Rick Scott, he needs to think again. A Mason-Dixon poll of likely voters shows Mr. McCollum well ahead of Mr. Scott in the Hispanic community (57 to 21 percent). But if the attorney general insists on alienating his own voters by pandering to the xenophobic elements in his party, Mr. Scott will be the beneficiary.

Undoubtedly, illegal immigration is an important issue. Floridians want smart and effective law enforcement. But a look at Florida's situation makes clear that creating an Arizona-style law for this state is wrong.

Florida is not Arizona -- we do not share a border with Mexico. Further, the state's biggest Hispanic populations, Cubans and Puerto Ricans, are legal. Also important: The number of illegal immigrants in Florida, according to statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, is on the way down. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen is exactly right: "Obsessing about this issue in the gubernatorial campaign means other issues are getting short shrift."

To read the complete editorial, visit www.miamiherald.com.