Will baseball put down bats over Arizona law?

Baseball -- or, rather, the linguistically more appropriate "beisbol" -- is the new grape.

Back in the day, the national grape boycott led by the United Farm Workers became one of the most effective consumer pressure campaigns in U.S. history. Dragging on for five years, the boycott hit growers where it hurt, and led to a collective bargaining agreement and improved conditions for field workers.

Today another high-profile boycott is in the offing, targeting Arizona's burgeoning business in America's national pastime.

The Major League Baseball Players Association has taken a forceful stand against Arizona's new law that directs local law enforcement agencies to question the immigration status of anybody they have stopped who might reasonably be suspected of being in this country illegally.

The association called for the law to either be "repealed or modified promptly." And it held out the option of "additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members." I love America. Our quintessential red, white and blue sport has the leverage to speak up for this generation's immigrants. Major league baseball exemplifies what America does best -- attracting the talents and aspirations of the world. Foreign-born players made up nearly 28 percent of the Major Leagues' starting rosters this season.

That's more than 230 players representing 14 countries and Puerto Rico, the vast majority from Latin America. Major league players join a host of other opponents. Tucson and Flagstaff are threatening to sue over it. Phoenix's mayor called it embarrassing. San Diego's city council denounced it. And the SEIU and a coalition of civil rights groups have called for a boycott of the state.

But it's the threat of baseball going bye-bye that got Gov. Jan Brewer and her PR people to snap to attention. After all, in Arizona baseball matters, what with half of major league teams holding spring training there. And now Brewer faces the looming threat of the 2011 All-Star Game pulling out of Phoenix.

Perceptively, Brewer chose ESPN's Web site as a venue for an essay explaining her decision to sign the controversial bill into law. Basically, she pleaded desperation. So fed up with the federal government's incompetence at keeping illegal immigrants from crossing through the state, Arizona passed the law as a warning shot to Washington. Brewer also dismissed fears that police would ever misstep in enforcing the law, or that it would lead to racial profiling.

Come on. Are we supposed to believe that Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Arizona's reality show law man, isn't going to use this law to show what a tough guy he is? Moreover, the law invites citizens to sue police if suspects aren't being rounded up to their satisfaction.

That's a recipe for disaster.

Arizona does have real problems as a border state. Brewer legitimately brought up the violent crime associated with the cross-border drug trade, including kidnapping (the victims of which are almost always illegal immigrants). The boycott she'd like to see, she wrote, is of illegal drugs.

However, Brewer's tone of alarm is somewhat at odds with the fact that violent crime rates in Arizona and other border states are at their lowest point in decades. And the law has a real potential to make law enforcement much more difficult in the future. Does Arizona really want to alienate its large Latino population, and discourage communities from cooperating with police? In a way, a country is defined by how it handles its most difficult, seemingly intractable social problems.

Passing a bad law, pregnant with the possibility of all sorts of unintended consequences, and passing it as a way to get the federal government to act to your satisfaction, is not the right path. How does that make Brewer a responsible leader? Congress and the president need to act. But they should do so carefully, completely addressing security concerns, the nation's labor needs, violent drug runners and the humanitarian issues of migrant families.

There is no room for grandstanding or playing to the fears or prejudices of the electorate. It will be an educational process, and it will take more than nine innings.

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