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Arizona's New Immigration Law: Open Season On Latinos?

Updated on May 6, 2010

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.




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    • Dhart profile image

      Dhart 6 years ago from Culver City, CA

      @John: I agree with the notion of not caring what race one is if they are breaking the law, BUT...

      The problem is with the far too many people of color who are NOT breaking the law, who are stoped and harassed just because of their skin color and their last name, which whether or not you agree with it, is gonna happen and no doubt HAS happened in AZ.

      In fact, similar crap has happened to me; as an African-American I have been stopped, harassed, and even handcuffed in front of my house - I believe racially profiled is the term - because of my skin color despite not breaking any laws at the time of my harassment.

      Face it - this is a racist country, people of COLOR are NOT playing the poor victims, people of color HAVE BEEN and ARE the victims, and it has manifested itself in AZ as well as thruout history all over the U.S. If you can't recognize that, be sympathetic to it, and try to be part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.

      It seems that you were never discriminated against or treated badly in any way due to your being Hispanic - if you were, you wouldn't have written most of what you wrote.

    • profile image

      John 6 years ago

      Hello. Well written but misleading. I since this article references Chicanos, Mexican Americans, etc, I will refer myself as an American of Mexican descent. I proudly served my country for 26 years in The Marine Corps in Peace and in War. SB1070 does not target legal immigrants. It targets undocumented or immigrants that are in Arizona illegally which by the way, is already a crime so there is no need for SB1070 to establish this this legal aspect. Yes, it is possible that legal citizens may be detained however briefly, because they may fit one element of a profile but as long as they can provide proof that they are here legally, there should be no problem.

      Lets be honest and upfront about this issue- Americans, citizens, legal residents, resident aliens, and legal visitors already have to have documentation on them simply to perform common daily tasks whether to drive (licence) write a check (2 forms of picture ID) travel (passport)Get a job (SSN card, Passport or Drivers licence, so why arent people complaining about that?

      So really what is the real issue? It is about all the people that would have to prove thier status and dont have the documentation. We have the same issues here in Escondido with unlicensed drivers complaining about all the vehicle safety checkpoints. They even have the gall to complain about all the unlicensed drunk drivers that get caught? Whats up with that? I dont have a problem with law enforcement enforcing the law. I dont care if they arrest a white guy, black guy, or hispanic if they are breaking the law. I love my mexican culture But I am a proud American first and foremost and I see too many of my fellow hispanics playing the same game of being the poor victim. If we as a society dont enforce good order and disipline then society breaks down and we have chaos. Look at whats happening in Mexico; Many years of institutionalized corruption that led to mistrust in the authorities, good people turning the other way, disrespect for the law and now look what they have. So they and others come here to escape all that chaos and they have the audacity to demand that we turn the other way when it comes to enforcing our laws? Where are we heading folks?