Outside Pahrump, you probably haven’t heard much about DeMeo. But he made headlines last week by calling out Nye County tax assessor Shirley Matson for her racially charged comments about Latino construction workers.
She wrote in an e-mail, “My staff, me, taxpayers coming to our offices, other town and county employees can plainly see that the construction workers are all Mexican/Latino, non-English speaking and I’m getting complaints.”
It wasn’t the first time in her short tenure that Matson has made derogatory comments about members of Pahrump’s Latino population.
DeMeo clearly doesn’t care for Matson, and he’s called her comments an example of “racial profiling” and “blatantly racist.”
DeMeo understands something that’s apparently lost on Matson: The law is supposed to be applied equally, and you don’t have to be an American citizen to work legally in the country.
The view might not go over with some citizens, and politics in the West is super-charged with anti-immigration rhetoric. But DeMeo deserves credit for stepping up and playing the grownup to Matson’s race-baiting blather.
Juxtapose DeMeo’s reasoned approach with the grandstanding Arpaio, the man conservatives and Tea Party loyalists have dubbed “America’s Sheriff.”
Arpaio has starred at center stage in Arizona and nationally for his aggressive anti-immigration stance. And for a while Arizona was on his side after passing a law that enables police during a routine stop to ask about a person’s immigration status.
At a time of high unemployment and higher anxiety about the economy, there’s no shortage of promoters of angry immigration talk. But the West doesn’t appear to be following Arizona’s anti-immigration model. At the Nevada Legislature, there’s no appetite to imitate Arizona. It’s early, but I haven’t heard of a meaningful piece of immigration-themed legislation being discussed.
In New Mexico, Republican Gov. Susanna Martinez, a Tea Party darling, has had her hard-line rhetoric rejected by that state’s Legislature. Her proposal to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining a New Mexico driver’s license was soundly defeated.
Just months ago, according to the Houston Chronicle, 20 state Legislatures were drafting bills imitative of Arizona’s law. Almost none has seen daylight. And even Arizona is simmering down.
Is it a shift of conscience on this issue, or a sign that the Republican Party nationally has seen the political pitfalls of promoting such constitutionally questionable laws?
In Utah, the state Legislature has taken a different approach. Some might call it Arizona Lite. A law proposal there would allow illegal immigrants to work legally in the state. It also enables Utah law enforcement to ask immigration status questions of persons arrested on serious charges. (In Arizona, any old traffic stop will do.)
One version of Utah’s guest worker legislation offers two-year work permits to undocumented workers. Those workers must pay a fine and comply with other rules.
The problem with popping off like Nye County’s Matson and Maricopa County’s Arpaio isn’t simply that it makes the speakers appear boorish and bigoted. It also promotes a big lie about illegal immigration in our country.
Illegal immigrants are in the West because American business owners employ them. At the very least the angry language aimed at the illegals is misplaced. The fastest way to rid the land of illegal immigrants is to make employing them an offense that leads to prison and asset forfeiture.
Do that, and you’re likely to see a most amazing political transformation. Before your very eyes you’ll see conservative business owners across America turn into diehard liberals on the subject of immigration reform.
Whether Utah’s somewhat kinder and gentler approach to illegal immigration finds a foothold in other Western states remains to be seen.
But for the record, I’ll take public servants who think first before spouting off over the race-baiting blowhards any day.
John L. Smith writes a weekly column on rural Nevada. He also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 702 383-0295.