Arizona anti-immigrant bill: divisive and regressive

Cartoon by Lalo Alcaraz

(From Nick Braune, South Texas College Professor)

Last week, the Governor of Arizona signed the strident anti-immigrant bill, SB 1070, which aims to take statewide measures to “identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants,” making it a crime to fail to carry immigration documents and upping the power of police to act against anyone they suspect to be undocumented.

The bill is divisive to say the least. It is possible to question the bill on this basis because it is the federal government which is in charge of immigration enforcement issues. The bill’s challenge to the federal level is obvious: the bill’s sponsor State Senator Russell Pearce, emphasized to the New York Times that he was doing this because the federal government would not do it. But do we want all the states and municipalities rallying this way to counter federal standards they disagree with?

Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill last Friday. In front of the state capitol, there were pickets with signs, “We are Human.” President Obama, while welcoming a group of new citizens who had gained citizenship through serving in the U.S. military, attacked Arizona’s bill as undermining “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.” (NYT, 4/23, Archibold)

The Times article reported that the Mexican Foreign Ministry attacked the bill as potentially infringing on the rights of Mexican citizens; there are many in Arizona (shopping, working, visiting) on any particular day, documented and undocumented. And Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, perhaps worrying with me about police profiling, said the bill smacks of Nazism. (Will local police demand ID from anyone wearing a tee shirt supporting Mexican soccer?)

Because roughly the same anti-immigrant bill had been vetoed by Janet Napolitano when she was governor, passage of the bill is also a clear slap at her. The divisiveness of the bill is highlighted by the simple fact reported in the Times piece that both the governor of the state, Brewer, and its major political figure, John McCain, were hesitant to support the bill and had been pressured by right wing opponents to do so. Brewer signed it with several gestures of reluctance, and McCain, who had been for a relatively moderate national immigration reform during his election campaign, only supported the bill at the last minute as it was passing.

Primary sponsor of the bill, State Senator Pearce, is a darling of Tea Party types but embarrasses mainstream Republicans. In 2006, the year when right-wing immigration legislation popped up and prompted nationwide pro-immigrant demonstrations, Pearce became mouthy. According to a previous background article in the NY Times, Pearce called for the racist “Operation Wetback” of the 1950s, and many people distanced themselves from him in 2006. (NYT, 4/19, Archibold)
According to the Times piece, Pearce also “appeared in a widely circulated photograph with a man who was a featured speaker at a neo-Nazi conference. (He said later he did not know of the man’s affiliation with the group.)” Pearce also came under fire for emailing — accidentally, he said — an attachment from a white supremacist group.
One Arizona state senator seems embarrassed (NYT, 9/23) that he voted for the bill, but was pressured from the right and is facing a tough reelection. He worries that Arizona is going to seem to Americans like George Wallace’s Alabama in the 1960s.

Last weekend, I spoke to an activist close to the United Farm Workers and LUPE in the Rio Grande Valley who is hoping that people attend their scheduled May Day rally in McAllen (Archer Park, 10 a.m. Saturday, a few days from now). She emphasized that the Arizona bill is an attack on all immigrants and must be opposed by fair-minded people. She and I discussed this country’s huge Hispanic population, which Democratic and Republican candidates both court; it needs to have its voice heard, she said.

The “conservative” Tea Party crowd is a fraction of the Republicans and has chauvinist anti-immigrant edges which have embarrassed some of the mainstream, and that small percentage may make it hard for Republicans to achieve the big victories they had expected to have in November’s midterm congressional elections.

The Tea Party crowd put on their big show in McAllen in mid-April, for instance, but they rounded up only about 600 people for the event. However, it achieved fawning press coverage as an energetic political force, even though the much larger Cesar Chavez Day rally sponsored by LUPE, which stressed comprehensive immigration reform on a national basis and which was addressed by the local Catholic bishop, received much less local coverage.

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