Many have wondered in the wake of Arizona’s “Papers Please” immigration law when the tea party movement would bother to speak out against it. There may be no greater example of big government overreach than government officers demanding documentation based on their own suspicions. This isn’t just a slippery slope, it’s an ice floe, and an extreme assault on individual freedom.

Republicans don’t seem to know what to say about this, but Marco Rubio, the hero of the Tea Party activists, actually came out and said the law goes too far, putting it in precisely those terms.

States certainly have the right to enact policies to protect their citizens, but Arizona’s policy shows the difficulty and limitations of states trying to act piecemeal to solve what is a serious federal problem. From what I have read in news reports, I do have concerns about this legislation. While I don’t believe Arizona’s policy was based on anything other than trying to get a handle on our broken borders, I think aspects of the law, especially that dealing with ‘reasonable suspicion,’ are going to put our law enforcement officers in an incredibly difficult position. It could also unreasonably single out people who are here legally, including many American citizens. Throughout American history and throughout this administration we have seen that when government is given an inch it takes a mile.

Of course, Rubio pivots and says he hopes that Democrats won’t use the law as “an excuse to try and jam through amnesty,” but he makes the central point that would presumably make sense to the so-called libertarians in the tea parties. I predict a freak-out, however. Local Arizona tea parties support the law. That’s mainly because they don’t have a concept of ideology so much as tribalism, and their xenophobia trumps whatever shibboleths about freedom they misspell on their signs.

One reason that Rubio could be more even-handed on this issue – he’s pivoting to the general election. By Thursday we’ll know if he even has a primary challenger for the GOP nomination for Senate – Charlie Crist plans to announce his decision then. If Crist does jump, expect more statements like this from Rubio.

David Dayen

David Dayen