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Arizona's New Immigration Law: Open Season On Latinos?
About twenty years ago, the state of Arizona was embroiled in a controversy over the Martin Luther King holiday, which became federal law in 1986.
The issue was simple: This desert state - home to the Grand Canyon and the Valley of the Sun, tons of cactus plants, many Native American Tribes, and temperatures reaching 115 degrees and more on a daily basis - had recinded the King holiday, the only one to do so. The reasoning was that there were concerns, according to Arizona's state legislature, about losing revenue by closing schools, banks and libraries on that third Monday in January.
Or something like that.
I and countless others were not fooled. It was felt that Arizona's not setting aside a day to honor the late great civil rights leader was racist, that the powers that be did not want to give homage to or celebrate the life of an African American.
Being that Barry Goldwater, the longtime conservative senator and Republican presidential candidate who lost to Lyndon Baines Johnson in the 1964 election and had a record of not supporting civil rights, was a native of that state, the King gesture wasn't too surprising.
It was only after boycotts were carried out and the National Football League pulled the 1993 Super Bowl out of Tempe's Sun Devil Stadium that the citizens of Arizona voted to include Dr. King's holiday in their official calendar. There remained considerable hard feelings stemming from that issue, however, and it gave that state and its residents a bad reputation for a while.
Two decades later, this southwestern state is involved in another controversial issue that has polarized this country for quite a few years.
A new bill, SB1070, was recently passed by the Arizona legislature and signed into law by governor Jan Brewer that radically tightens immigration laws, not only making it a crime for immigrants to be in the state illegally, but also requiring the police to check the status of anyone they suspect of such.
Since this desert region borders Mexico and the vast majority of those crossing illegally hail from there, enforcement of this new law means that anybody with brown skin, black hair and a Spanish surname will be suspected of being an "illegal alien" and will be forced to carry papers proving that they belong in the U.S.
In my view - despite the bill's authors and supporters (70% of Arizonans) claiming otherwise - racial profiling and harassment against Mexican Americans and Chicanos will increase; it will be open season against folks of Latin American descent, just like blacks during South Africa's apartheid years and in the northern states after the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in the 1850s. It will be risky for anyone who's Latino to be out and about without appropriate proof of legitimate American citizenship.
Shades of apartheid and the slavery era.
Any way one looks at this issue, there will be scary days ahead for Arizonans of Latin descent, whether or not they are in the state illegally.
This bill was written because ranchers along the border were getting attacked; their homes, ranches and livestock were being robbed by illegals and particularly drug smugglers crossing mostly from Northern Mexico. One rancher was recently killed in a confrontation, and there have been other shootings. However...
SB1070 is not the answer to that state's immigration problems.
It will not prevent Mexican and others from trying to take advantage of financial opportunities that are non-existent in their home nations due to their exteme poverty, and it will cause much polarization and animosity among Arizonans and the rest of this country.
For starters, lawsuits have already been filed to stop this law's enforcement by various civil liberties groups. Boycotts of the state are being called by Latino advocates and others across America, potentially maiming their tourist economy and the revenue generated for that and conventions. Marches on the state capitol on Phoenix have commenced, with more being planned; 60,000 people marched through downtown Los Angeles recently in protest of this bill, and there have been rallies in over ninety cities nationwide.
And to top it all off the NCAA, which runs college sports, has threatned to pull the Bowl Championship Series' National Championship Football game out of the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale (a suburb of Phoenix) this coming January.
Like the controversy over the King holiday twenty years before, Arizona will get a bad rap for this; people will think that it's a redneck state in the middle of the desert that is full of bigots wanting to engage in ethnic cleansing, which needs to be avoided at all costs.
I wouldn't be surprised if people didn't even want to fly over it.
To many, including myself, this immigration law seems like a way to scapegoat an entire ethnic group for the crimes and misdeeds of a few of their population. It goes without saying that like California's Proposition 187 in 1994, which served to deny things like education to illegal immigrants, this law needs to be struck down in the courts, if not outright repealed.
For Arizona to render their entire Latino community as suspects who are there ilegally, which SB1070 will essentially do, is unfair at the very least, and racist at worst.
And it will lead to an open season on Mexican Americans, Chicanos, and others of Latin descent - that's the way I see it.
Hopefully the courts will see reason and force that state's leaders to come up with another way to deal with their immigration issues.