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My father, a federal employee with a top secret clearance, carried a copy of his birth certificate when he went into Baja California from our home in San Diego. Many times, when he tried to reenter the U.S., he was stopped by the Border Patrol. He had thick black hair and naturally dark skin, and the Patrol thought he was a Mexican brazenly trying to sneak back into the country by claiming to be married to the black-haired, blue-eyed, light-skinned woman he claimed was his wife.
If my father were still alive, and chose to drive into Arizona or to walk on the streets of any of its cities or towns, he probably would be stopped and asked to provide identification. Naturally, he wouldn’t be carrying a U.S-issued visa or Mexican-issued passport, since he was an American citizen. He probably wouldn’t even be carrying his birth certificate, since he would have assumed he was traveling within the United States, and there was no need to carry it. He would probably have a Social Security card and his California-issued ID card—he didn’t have a driver’s license because he was blind in his left eye—but both of those could easily have been forged.
After a few minutes, he would probably be released by the local police officer, perhaps after providing his federal identification. But, maybe a few hours later, he’d be stopped again, perhaps by a sheriff’s deputy, constable, or even a mall’s part-time security guard.
Everyone under SB1070, signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, April 22, can be stopped and searched by any officer for any reason, and required to produce documentation that they are in the United States legally. A hastily-added amendment a week later modified the original law to require that police have to have a reason to stop persons. The reason could be as simple as the officer claiming the suspect was loitering, jaywalking, or playing a car radio too loud. The law also allows any citizen to file suit against any law enforcement agency if the citizen believes the state law isn’t being followed. Pushed by a fearful citizenry and a politically opportunistic Republican party, the bill takes effect in August.
Legislators from several states, including Pennsylvania, have followed Arizona’s lead. Pennsylvania State Sen. Daryl Metcalf (R-Butler) filed HB2479, which almost duplicates Arizona’s law. With inflammatory rhetoric at the bill’s introduction, Metcalf told about rapes and murders, about the “financial drain” upon the state’s economy. The bill will probably die in committee. Even if it should get majority votes in both houses, Gov. Ed Rendell says he will veto it.
Forget the constitutional concepts of “due process” and “probable cause.” Under Arizona’s new law, persons are presumed guilty until they produce identification that they are innocent. And, disregard the Constitutional mandate that immigration is the responsibility of the federal, not the state, government. What Arizona saw was that about a half-million persons, mostly Hispanic, were in their state illegally. They saw that the federal government wasn’t effective at sealing the southern border, even after 9/11. They saw that President Bush had tried to reform immigration policies, only to have to back down when he faced a divided Republican party. They saw that President Obama has tried to assure the safety of Americans, but that a squabbling Congress rendered any reform inert. And they also realized that for many years, adequate funds were not put into the budget of the Border Patrol.
They also saw a significant increase in crime, including drug trafficking, kidnapping, and murder by illegal immigrants. They saw thousands of immigrants living in squalor, dozens in the same room, forced to work at starvation wages to pay back the gangs that brought them north. Anglo and Hispanic residents had become afraid of living in their own houses because of the gangs.
They also saw myriad problems caused by illegal immigrants who came north and gave birth to what are known as “anchor babies,” so the children would become U.S. citizens and the parents, still in the country illegally, could not be deported. They saw that undocumented workers were somehow “stealing” their taxes by getting food stamps, welfare, and aid to families with dependent children.
Although there is increased crime because of the presence of persons from Mexico and Central America who are in the country illegally, most undocumented workers are law-abiding residents. They don’t go to the ER and get “free” medical help or try to scam the system by claiming welfare payments, since most believe that just registering for medical help or welfare could lead to them being identified as illegal residents and deported. But they do want their children to be in school, to get an education, perhaps to become American citizens.
The Hispanic immigrants, with their gangs, are no different from those of any other culture, which developed gangs and societies that were originally designed to help and protect them from exploitation, but did so using fear and criminal activity. The Irish came to America in the mid-1800s, but they also developed Tammany Hall and the Molly Maguires. The Chinese had to deal with the Tong gangs. The Italians brought with them the Mafia. The Russians and eastern Europeans in the latter part of the 20th century are dealing with the Bratva, the “brotherhood,” sometimes known as the Russian Mafia. But, like most Hispanics, most Irish, Chinese, Italians, eastern Europeans, and every other cultural minority, were and still are law-abiding citizens who only want to live in peace. Americans have a long history of hatred for newly-arrived immigrants, who later become assimilated, and continue the hatred against the next culture to try to assimilate into American society.
There is also another part of American history that is overlooked by the masses. When the Native Americans first greeted Columbus, they met a man who spoke his native Ligurian, as well as Portuguese and Spanish. It would be more than a century until the first English-speaking settlers arrived. (Ironically, the top name for baby girls born last year was Isabella.) The French owned a large part of what is now the Midwest, often called Middle America. Mexicans and Native Americans civilized much of the Southwest, including Arizona, long before Anglos moved west in what they believed was their “manifest destiny” that would lead to what centuries later would be called “ethnic cleansing” if it occurred anywhere but in the United States.
The day Gov. Brewer signed the bill, massive protests began. They saw this new law, essentially racial profiling since fair-skinned blondes were unlikely to be stopped, as violating everyone’s Constitutional rights, and as a desperate attempt to control a problem that became magnified by media-savvy politicians and the compliant news media.
At a rally in Phoenix, Mayor Phil Gordon spoke against the law, which was roundly condemned by numerous Hispanic celebrities, including Grammy-winning Colombian singer Shakira. “I came here to offer support and defend human rights,” said Shakira, who said she opposed the law “because it is a violation of human and civil rights and goes against human dignity.”
President Obama said the law undermined “basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.” Most law enforcement officers don’t want to expend their resources to enforce what they believe is an illegal and unwieldy law. Chief Robert Davis of San Jose, Calif., president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, points out, “immigration enforcement by local police would likely negatively effect and undermine the level of trust and cooperation between local police and immigrant communities.” The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police said the law “will negatively affect the ability of law enforcement agencies across the state to fulfill their many responsibilities in a timely manner,” and argued that although the police chiefs recognized that immigration was a problem in Arizona, “it is an issue most appropriately addressed at the federal level.” Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County (Tucson is the closest major city to the border), not only said he wouldn’t enforce the law, which demands compliance of every police official, but filed suit in federal court against the state. The law, said Sheriff Dupnik, is “disgusting,” “unnecessary,” and “racist.” It is that same law that, if fully enforced, will likely cause significant overcrowding in jails, and force local government and the state to spend millions to house persons whose only “crime” is to live in the United States.
More than two dozen major national organizations have already said they will not hold conventions in Arizona, hoping that an economic boycott will force the state to reconsider the law that was written, voted upon, and passed in the juices of hate and fear. Two decades earlier, economic boycotts led Arizona to declare Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday only after the NFL had pulled the Super Bowl from Arizona in 1993 because the state refused to follow the rest of the country in recognizing Dr. King. Major League Baseball is deciding whether to pull next year’s all-star game from Phoenix. About one-fourth of all major league players are Hispanic; several teams conduct about two months of Spring training in Arizona; about a dozen teams in the Arizona Rookie League each have at least five Hispanics players, all with legal status to work in the U.S. On Cinco de Mayo, every member of the Phoenix Suns wore jerseys identifying them as team members of “Los Suns,” their support of the state’s Hispanic population.
University of Arizona President Robert Shelton told students and employees at his university that the families of several out-of-state honors students who accepted admission to UA, “have told us that they are changing their plans and will be sending their children to universities in other states.” He also said that UA students and employees, all of them citizens or who have legal visas, fear they “may now be subject to unwarranted detainment by police” although they “are from families that have been residents of Arizona for generations.”
Even the national Republican party may have been blindsided by the swift passage of the law and the national outrage. Under President Bush, the Republicans had tried to increase the number of Hispanic voters in the party, and is now faced with the reality that there could be a massive retaliation. Phoenix, along with Tampa and Salt Lake City, were the remaining three cities for consideration for the 2012 Republican National Convention. Suddenly, it seems as if a $100 million economic advantage for Arizona would turn into a political liability.
Many prominent conservatives, including Karl Rove, have also spoken out against the law as a major infringement on personal freedoms. Rove, the architect of George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns, said he saw not only “constitutional problems with the bill” but that he wished Arizona “hadn’t passed it.”
The Immigration Reform and Control Act, signed into law by Ronald Reagan in November 1986, was a comprehensive reform of immigration law, and supported by strong majorities of both major parties. It granted amnesty to illegal residents who were in the country continuously prior to Jan. 1, 1982, protected the rights of persons illegally in the U.S., and imposed heavy penalties upon businesses that hired workers who were not citizens or did not have appropriate work visas. Unfortunately, the law has not been as effective as planned.
Corporations and small businesses are all too willing to violate federal law by hiring undocumented workers, pay them significantly less than they pay American citizens, give them no benefits, pay no Social Security or unemployment taxes, and allow them to live in poverty. Even when there is a relatively rare raid on their premises, usually the owner or corporation pays almost no penalty, or one that is a minuscule part of its profits. Corporations, including Walmart, also found a major loophole in the law by working with subcontractors who provide laborers at a fixed rate; thus, the workers are never considered to be employees.
American citizens who wrongly complain about immigrants taking their jobs are also a part of the problem, since they don’t seem to have a problem with outsourcing or low factory pay, as long as it allows them to buy cheaper goods.
My father, who survived the Depression, the Communist witch hunts, and was a part of the fight for civil rights, was subjected to bigotry and racism, as was my mother, but was spared the viciousness of a White population in a neighboring state that passed a law in 2010 that could only be seen as not much different from laws and “police practices” in the Deep South in the 1950s. The South learned; Arizona hasn’t.
Walter Brasch is author of 17 books, a syndicated columnist, and professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University and recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award. You may contact him through his website, www.walterbrasch.com