Immigration: A Complicated Onion

Immigration is a very complicated onion to peel.  There are many facets and nuances to the issue that it is easy to see how people can become conflicted and emotionally bound in the issue.  No one solution is going to be the umbrella solution that solves every problem that immigration causes us in the United States.  It may take several smaller components that when layered together will form the onion.

Arizona last month passed not one but three bills into law that reflected a dramatic shift in their approach to immigration.  We need to look at all three laws together to see the potential motivation and the impact of these laws on the citizens of Arizona and those who are living there with out documentation of legal status. Included in this mix is also the response that other states have made in reaction to these laws.  As I am writing this there are seven states that are considering similar or even more draconian laws than Arizona’s.

Arizona’s governor claims that her state is under siege by immigrants crossing the border and bringing with them a host of problems; including drug and human sex trafficking, violent crimes,  and child prostitution.  All of these are serious problems and need to be addressed with effective laws.  The question is what effective laws will address them?  Arizona’s argument is that since the Federal government has not acted and these issues appear to be growing–despite documented evidence of a marked decrease in these particular crimes since the 1990’s (http://articles.latimes.com/2010/may/03/nation/la-na-arizona-crime-20100503) — and endangering the welfare of Arizona’s citizens then they must act.

I was under the impression that police could already ask for identification papers on people they are investigating for criminal activity.  A friend of mine that works in law enforcement told  me that was not the case only INS enforcers could ask for identification papers. This law gives police the ability to ask those who are already suspected of other criminal activity their citizenship status. My friend insisted the law is intended towards people who are already under investigation of other criminal activity and not just someone walking down the street. Perhaps, but I have my doubts…

But if racism and racial profiling is not being promoted by Arizona’s laws, then what pray tell, is the purpose behind the second law that Arizona passed that same week—banning ethnic studies from public schools and banning teachers who speak with an accent from teaching English?    The reason given for banning the courses is because they “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment of a particular race or class of people, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

Do they really? This country was founded on the principle of overthrowing an oppressive government; it is written into our Declaration of Independence.  We generally have done this by getting rid of oppressive laws such as the Jim Crow Laws of the south, rather than by overthrowing the entire government.   But it is a people’s right to change the government that is oppressive to the liberties that are fundamentally endowed to us.

Ethnic solidarity over individualism is a cultural moré of many Latino cultures therefore to ban a course that might emphasize community is a direct attack on a people’s heritage.  One of the stages towards genocide (according to Genocide Watch) includes discouraging any attempts of creating sympathy or simpatico with the ostracized group and to break the family and ethnic bonds that hold that group together.

The teachers who teach English but speak with accents–allegedly any accent but a Spanish accent is the target– many of them were initially hired as part of Arizona’s bi-lingual education program which ended in 2000.  Since they could not get rid of the teachers they transferred them to teach English and now the law to ban teachers who speak with accents. Sure there is a need to ensure that English teachers have a proficiency in English grammar but there are other ways to ensure this without targeting teachers with ‘accents.’  It is a discriminatory way to remove Latino diversity from the public schools and increase hostility towards a specific population.

Arizona also passed a law, which was immediately repealed, to require presidential candidates to produce a birth certificate proving birth in the United States in order to be eligible to be placed on the ballot in Arizona. In and of itself this law would be no big deal, but in the context of the birther movement that still insists that President Obama was not born in the State of Hawaii and yet does not seem to care that Arizona’s own Senator McCain who ran against Obama, was born in Panama to American parents stationed there.  If this law were in place in 2008, McCain could not run for President in his own state as an American citizen born on foreign soil. This law, albeit repealed immediately, is a racially motivated law.

These three laws combined seem to me to be a reaction to the fact that a specific population is becoming the majority and the way to stop their growing power is to profile them in negative lights through police harassment, through removal of their educational influence, and by denying the ability to honor their ethnic and cultural diversity. This is a state that is shifting ever closer to seeking extraordinary means in order to retain white supremacy / power in the state.  Arizona is not the only state that is making this shift.  There are at least seven states that are making similar overtures.

And it is this shift in attitude towards people who are different from Anglo America that is the alarm that many feel as they witness Arizona pass draconian legislation that potentially could result in racial profiling.  These three laws combined signal the potential of actions that we will regret in the not so distant future.

Immigrants are not taking jobs away from us.  This is a myth.  Immigrants generally find employment in fields that we Americans do not want such as migrant workers, or domestic help, or unskilled laborers.  We tend to look at these positions with disdain and yet they are vital to our economy.  This is work that needs to be done in order for our high standard of living to thrive but that we deemed undignified.

“So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But … whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.   But this is work that our society has deemed unworthy and it is this work that our immigrants, those here legally and those here illegally have sought as employment.

Whatever the solution for illegal immigration, the one that needs to be found is one that will honor and respect the individuals who come here.  We can seal our borders.  We can strengthen our employment laws.  We can enhance our legal immigration system so that those who enter through legal channels are welcomed with open arms and are protected by the laws that seek to protect all of us.

The laws that Arizona passed will not do this for those who are here legally.  The laws that Arizona passed will create hardship and injustice for them.  Arizona is creating an atmosphere that will be hostile to anyone who is non-white, specifically the Hispanic, Latino, and the Native American.  This is not what we hold dear about America.  We can still fulfill our American Creed.

This onion called immigration is a multi-layered and complex issue.  It touches on issues that we do not want to admit exists and yet we must confess and deal with them.  Issues that were never so clearly revealed than in Arizona this past month.  Blessings,

CLARIFICATION: One of the three bills has been signed into law and that is the law allowing police to request citizenship status. The bill that bans ethnic studies and bans teachers who speak with an accent from teaching English is on the governor’s desk awaiting her signature or veto. The bill dubbed the “Birther Bill” that would require presidential candidates to produce their birth certificate to prove their birth in United States passed the state’s house but was not forwarded to the senate because it is believed there is not enough support for it.

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3 Comments

  1. Looks to me like the Democrats will make on this; what we have – to use an Americanism – is white privilege being eroded and those losing grip of their positions going down, kicking and screaming. The kind of crap I see coming from our southern neighbour reminds me of the last throes of the Eastern Block. 2010 looks like another shameful year for the USA, and I do not say that with any sense of smug satisfaction. It truly is disturbing.

  2. CLARIFICATION: One of the three bills has been signed into law and that is the law allowing police to request citizenship status. The bill that bans ethnic studies and bans teachers who speak with an accent from teaching English is on the governor’s desk awaiting her signature or veto. The bill dubbed the “Birther Bill” that would require presidential candidates to produce their birth certificate to prove their birth in United States passed the state’s house but was not forwarded to the senate because it is believed there is not enough support for it.

  3. Thank you for posting about these laws. The law that was passed is bad enough on its own but put together with those other two then you really get a sense of the climate in Arizona. Very frightening.


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