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Arizona's Raid on the Constitution

The Good, the Bad and the … "Misguided"?

by JAYNE LYN STAHL

In what may be easily called the understatement of the decade so far, President Obama has characterized an Arizona measure that criminalizes undocumented immigration, just signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, as "misguided." Frankly, higher octane words come to mind. How about unconstitutional?

In these days of gosh, darn, and heck how better euphemize than with a word like "misguided?" Too bad we don’t fire off more "misguided" missiles. And, if language is any indication of purpose, the benign appellation can only spell defeat at the polls for Democrats in November, and beyond

After more than eight years of listening to the likes of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld using terms like "bad guys," it’s reassuring to know that the commander-in-chief can master polysyllables, but words with higher testasterone levels are needed to describe a law that just passed in a state that nearly produced our 44th president.

Lest there be some surprise about this latest move by Arizona’s Republican governor, keep in mind that Brewer also signed legislation that allows people to carry guns into bars, and a measure that lets Arizona citizens possess concealed weapons without a permit.

Okay, but forget Brewer. What do we know about Russell Pearce, the Arizona state senator who sponsored the bill? Apart from being a conservative Republican who served in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, Pearce’s Web site boasts of being a fifth generation Arizonan. But, where did the previous generations of Pearces come from, and could they provide legal documentation that meets citizenship requirements now if called upon to do so?

More importantly, could John Adams provide proof of citizenship that might satisfy the new Arizona state law? If Mahatma Gandhi were to find himself in Tucson on a dark street, would he find himself the target of the kind of reasonable suspicion clause of this new law?

A quick visit to Mr. Pearce’s Web site will also show how much he values the Declaration of Independence, and entitlement of all to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." What his Web site neglects to mention is that evidently Pearce also believes the pursuit of happiness must come only with a green card.

What about "maverick" John McCain? Even the incumbent Arizona senator has been outspoken in his support for this law that now enables law enforcement to target anyone suspected of being in the country illegally; whatever "reasonable suspicion" may be.

But, is there a difference between being undocumented, and being illegal? Let’s be clear here. You are now a criminal in the state of Arizona if you are stopped by police, and you are unable to produce documents establishing an acceptable citizenship status. It would seem only logical that if the U.S. wants to find its way out of its financial maestrom that it go after crimes like fraud, and prosecute the heads of Goldman Sachs, and Lehman Brothers, but without campaign contributions from the likes of Goldman Sachs, there would be no Obama presidency. One doesn’t bite the hand that feeds one indeed, and given that most of the fruit and vegetables on America’s plates come from the hands of migrant workers, many of whom are undocumented, the same logic should apply.

The irony is inescapable considering all the fuss about illegality when it comes to immigrants given that there isn’t a peep when it comes to thousands of illegal wiretaps, or substantial evidence that a practice, waterboarding, which has long been considered torture was variously used by interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, in Iraq, and elsewhere.

For a country that was founded with what can only now be called the misguided belief in egalitarianism, it is abundantly clear that it isn’t breaking the law that is at stake here, but who’s breaking it.

True, this isn’t the first draconian immigration legislation passed by a state that is also moving to demand future presidential candidates provide documentation that they were born in the U.S., but it is certainly the most hateful in that, if passed, it will put police officers in the position of immigration officials, a concept that has legal precedent thanks to the USA Patriot Act.

For the better part of two and half centuries, immigration policies have been regulated by the federal government, and not by the states. Surely, the president can find more potent language with which to denounce legalizing profiling by skin color, and under the guise of "questioning," one that enables authorities to harass with the objective of deporting those who lack requisite documentation.

Consider that from 1769 through 1882 according to a Smithsonian Institution exhibit, the U.S. excluded only convicts, prostitutes, idiots, and lunatics. From 1882-1943, Chinese were not allowed to immigrate. It wasn’t until 1885 that U.S. immigration mandated that there be "no gangs of cheap laborers," according to a Smithsonian Institution exhibit, and this latest Arizona law seems to reflect a mindset we haven’t seen since 1885.

Moreover, from the vantage point of Native Americans, those who came here on the Mayflower were illegals who did more than shoot one Arizona rancher. But, this isn’t about crime. This is about jobs, and the Democrats better stand up and stand up fast to show that the furthest thing from the minds of people like John McCain, and Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, is helping working people. All they care about is saving their own jobs.

For the president, and Democratic leadership, not to speak out now in the strongest possible terms, but instead to pussyfoot around, will be not only a missed opportunity, but professional misconduct.

JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.

 

WORDS THAT STICK