And now, a word from our area Republican representatives in St. Paul. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa: "I think the (Arizona) bill is a great idea. You know, I wish I would have thought of that." Greg Davids, R-Preston: "They cost the state a lot of money. The bill just says we're going to follow the U.S. Constitution."

Now back to us.

Yes, Davids is right.

The now infamous Arizona bill does follow the Constitution, except for that parts about equal protection, and unreasonable search and seizure. Then there are those pesky American concepts like innocent until proven guilty.

And, if we're giving the police the power to round up people, why not just do away with the courts,too?

After all, the courts cost a lot of money, too, and we could sure use the savings during this budget crunch. Since the police are rounding up people anyway ...

Our GOP lawmakers should be doubly ashamed.

First, they're wasting precious legislative time - it's as if state lawmakers in St. Paul don't have better things to do (there's that little budget thing).

Second, they should be ashamed because in this one stance they've betrayed what it means to be a Republican - supposedly the party of Constitutional freedoms, small government and pro-business.

Davids said illegal immigrants cost us a lot of money.

You know who costs us more?

We do.

"Legal" Americans. You see, providing things like roads, schools, a military and sewer systems isn't cheap either.

And to listen to the GOP tell it, you'd think that every single person crossing any of our borders is hellbent on crime and corruption.

The vast majority of these so-called illegal immigrants came here for the same reason most of our grandparents and great-grandparents did: To work hard, live peacefully and provide better lives for their children.

And how many of our ancestors got an invitation here?

Two things have changed since papa and granny boarded a steamer bound for the New World.

We closed places like Ellis Island, representing a shift in our national attitude and how we process immigrants.

More noticeably, though, the color of most of these illegal immigrants' skin got a fair shade darker.

Any Republican businessperson should understand what immigrants mean to the labor force, even at a local level.

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Ask any dairy farmer in Drazkowski or Davids' districts what cheap, immigrant labor has meant in the challenging milk market, with its unfair floor prices that make dairy farming profits so tight.

"They" don't cost us money.

"They" make us money.

"They" chip into payroll taxes for things they'll most likely never see.

Beyond the economic implications, the Arizona bill is far more pernicious for what it does to our sense of what it means to be an "American."

This bill gives police power that almost any American should be uncomfortable with - it is nothing more than ethnic and racial profiling, something that should be abhorrent to anyone who loves the Constitution.

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The assumption under this law is that anyone questioned is guilty until proven innocent.

We shouldn't be willing to trade our civil liberties because we're suffering from a bad case of xenophobia.

And please don't invoke our Founding Fathers or any other quasi-Constitutional excuse.

Benjamin Franklin, no lesser person than the architect of American democracy, said those willing to trade their freedom for security deserve neither.

Lawmakers who support the bill because they think it sends a message to the federal government are right about it sending a message, but they're wrong about the message's content. The Arizona bill sends the message that there are two classes of citizen in this nation of equals. It sends the message that there are some rights that are supposedly inalienable - except to aliens.

It seems we've heard presidential politicians of all stripes for some time talk about the challenges of immigration ... in a nation of immigrants. There is a legitimate need to do more to protect the border - we won't argue that. But profiling or throwing a xenophobic tantrum aren't the right or only solutions.

Short of the vigilante justice that is equally embedded in the American psyche - the same logic that causes us to cheer whenever an actor utters "shoot 'em all and let God sort it out" - the way we deal with immigrants is not to create a place that's just as fear-filled as the spot they left.

For a supposedly Christian nation, this law seems to lack compassion for people who have little more than a work ethic in addition to a funny-sounding last name.

Instead, let's borrow a page from history. Most of our recent ancestors - who had last names like Drazkowski and Davids - went through naturalization classes. There was a process, they followed it and some even cried when they got to sing the National Anthem.

And how many times have we heard the story of the immigrant parents refusing to speak in a native tongue for fear their children might not be American enough?

Are these GOP legislators with such a yen for Arizona really dense enough to believe history won't repeat itself? Are they blind to the big business these immigrants provide?

It's easy to get sentimental about the Constitution or wave a flag on Independence Day. That's because there's real value in the things those pins and pieces of cloth represent.

Easy to talk about. So much harder to live them out.

By Darrell Ehrlick, editor, on behalf of the Winona Daily News editorial board, which also includes publisher Rusty Cunningham and deputy editor Jerome Christenson. To comment, call (507) 453-3507, or send e-mail to letters@winonadailynews.com.

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