Former Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce's Q&A with Sen. Chuck Schumer: Caricature and Reality

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on May 2, 2012

I did not know very much about Russell Pearce before I read Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank's tendentious characterization of him in his column. I knew that he was the former President of the Arizona Senate, had been instrumental in passing Arizona's controversial immigration law that is now before the Supreme Court, and that he had been defeated in a recall election, much to the pleasure of his enemies.

I knew that the New York Times had branded him a "firebrand", and wrote that he "had long been considered a politically incorrect embarrassment by more moderate members of his party — often to the delight of his supporters."

I gained the impression from reading "opinion writer" Dana Milbank's piece that Mr. Pearce was a pro-racial profiling, round-'em-up-and-ship-'em-off advocate of mass deportations of illegal immigrants and an all around general yahoo.

Democrats — who had the committee meeting all to themselves since Republican members had boycotted it — had hoped to help bury Mr. Romney's candidacy by emphasizing his immigration stands. And in the words of Mr. Milbank, "Pearce was happy to help with the grave-digging." Mr. Milbank assured his readers that Mr. Pearce had "handled himself in just the manner Democrats had hoped."

In his opinion piece, Mr. Milbank repeated the phrases that are sure to cement his standing among those who already agree with him. Mr. Pearce, "sounded the alarm about the invasion of illegal aliens". He warned that among illegal aliens were "convicted felons, drug cartels, gang members, human traffickers, even terrorists". He pointed out that the failure to enforce or our immigration laws allowed the 9/11 terrorists to stay in the country illegally.

What is odd about Mr. Milbank's sneering is that all of Mr. Pearce's claims are arguably correct. Eleven to 12 million people living and working in the United States in violation of our immigration laws is an invasion, in the ordinary dictionary understanding of that term as "an arrival in large numbers".

And yes, among that group of 11-12 million illegal immigrants are exactly the kinds of criminals that Mr. Pearce describes. If you need any further proof of that simple fact, consult the administration's yearly statistics for criminal removals.

And while Mr. Milbank's aside that the 9/11 terrorists entered the country legally is correct, he forget to mention that Mr. Pearce's statement is also correct. Some of the 9/11 terrorists stayed on after their visas had expired, as have as much as 50 percent of the illegal immigrant pool. And the United States still has no system in place to track exits as well as entries.

After reading Mr. Milbank's characterizations, I wanted to see for myself. I imagined an ongoing confrontation between a "firebrand" and a shrewd Democratic operative anxious to hand Mr. Pearce a shovel to help begin digging Mr. Romney's grave.

Being familiar with Mr. Milbank's writing I should have known better.

You need only watch Mr. Pearce's Q & A with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to see how badly Mr. Pearce has been treated by Mr. Milbank. (Mr. Pearce's testimony begins at the 75:46 mark.) Yes, Sen. Schumer repeatedly pressed Mr. Pearce to grab the shovel and start digging, but Mr. Pearce, in a quiet, respectful, low-key manner, refused to play the role assigned to him.

Mr. Pearce's answers were thoughtful, measured, direct, and nuanced. He had a large repository of technical, legal, and experiential information at his fingertips and provided it to Mr. Schumer in a respectful way. Never had I seen so much tendentious provocation, albeit delivered in a measured tone, responded to so carefully and calmly.

Mr. Pearce repeatedly and calmly explained to Mr. Schumer that the basis for probable cause was never just a single factor like dress, which the senator kept emphasizing, but rather a number of factors that all pointed in the same direction.

When asked to respond to one of the senator's tendentious assertions that ended with the question "Isn't that correct?" Mr. Pearce calmed replied "No, it isn't" and went on to explain — often for a second or third time. He routinely began his answers by saying "I respectfully disagree" or "I hate to be redundant".

There was even some intended humor. Asked by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in a sarcastic voice whether he had ever read the "Dream Act", Mr. Pearce didn't skip a beat in asking "Which one?"

Mr. Pearce was much more of a gentleman that his questioners, and more honest by far than Mr. Milbank.

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