Friday, May 21, 2010

Being Mexican is Not a Crime: SB 1070 and the Boycott of Arizona

Being Mexican is Not a Crime:
SB 1070 and the Boycott of Arizona
The Noise
June 2010
The Outs
Ellen Jo Roberts

Just when the rest of the country had almost started to forget the 1990s Martin Luther King Holiday debacle, Arizona is back in the daily headlines for a poorly presented pseudo-racist government policy. Governor Jan Brewer’s quick acceptance of the vaguely worded State Bill 1070, in a bid to curry Republican votes for election season, has polarized the state and the country. Arizona, heartbreakingly beautiful love of my life, has been reduced to a punch line, a punching bag. It pains me to see it so mishandled.

Arizona’s survived bad governors before. Remember Evan “Pickaninny” Meacham, the first Arizona governor to be impeached? Fife Symington was a swindler who resigned office after being convicted of fraud. Jane Hull used the state’s helicopter for personal travel. Now we have Jan Brewer running roughshod over the landscape, closing state parks, deregulating gun permissions, legalizing fireworks, and cutting the Arizona Office of Tourism’s budget by 70%, with seemingly little thought of the impact. The ill will generated by SB 1070, closure of parks, and the snuffing of a proactive tourism program will have a long lasting impact on our state’s reputation and economy, long after Brewer’s appointed term expires.

For a country so lion-hearted as the USA, always running to the assistance of countries half a planet away, it’s a bit incredible we’d not invest more thought and positive energy into the situation with our very own next door neighbors.

There is a silver lining to all this. There is a correct answer on immigration policies that could eventually take shape from all of this uproar. But, as of today, it’s not yet arrived. Both right wing and left wing arguments hinge on something sensational, partial truths, fear. Perhaps at some point, folks could discuss this reasonably, rationally. There’s a sense of general disappointment that our former Governor Janet Napolitano, now Secretary of Homeland Security, hasn’t yet championed something more proactive and positive at the federal level in regards to illegal immigration. Arizona’s answer, building fences and questioning citizenship based on a hazy set of suggestions seems distinctly negative, backwards, and so very 20th century.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon calls the new law “discriminatory”, and warns that Mexico will not support the criminalization of migration. He blames the United States’ big appetite for illicit drugs as a primary cause for border breach. The Mexican Foreign Ministry issued a travel advisory for Mexican nationals visiting Arizona, warning, “It must be assumed that every Mexican citizen may be harassed and questioned without further cause at any time.” President Barack Obama had cautioned Governor Brewer against signing the bill, though acknowledges the bill arrived as a “misdirected expression of frustration” due to the lack of solutions at the federal level. The president is enlisting the federal judicial committee to review 1070, line by line, due to his concerns it has the “potential to be discriminatory.” One week after the bill was approved, additional modifications to the bill, HB 2162, were passed, addressing and correcting racial profiling aspects to 1070.

Those supporting the bill are generally proud of Arizona’s tough maverick stance on illegals, attempting to take control of a situation the federal government hasn’t.
Those against the bill say it’s unconstitutional, fascist, against civil rights of American citizens, who now may be targeted by patrol simply for being of Mexican heritage. It sends an unfriendly message to international companies and travelers.
“Show me your papers” sounds a bit Gestapo.

Governor Brewer insists the bill would only apply to people who commit suspicious and potentially illegal acts. Such as speeding, loitering… or perhaps just appearing the slightest bit like an illegal alien, the overwhelming majority of which in the US are from Mexico. Brewer’s F.AQ. info sheet assures if you’re an American citizen you don’t need to carry documentation (…unless maybe you’re a Mexican American? In which case, you’d probably better.)
Enforcement of 1070 falls squarely on the shoulders of Arizona police.
Police support of the bill is mixed, with statewide police officers generally pro, and the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police generally against. They already have their hands full with daily local situations, in addition to attempting enforcement of immigration policies, technically an issue that falls under federal jurisdiction. President Obama expressed concerns that 1070 “would undermine the 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.” How will 1070 be enforced? A DVD with complete step-by-step instructions will be sent to all Arizona Police departments prior to the bill taking effect in July.

It’s what I’d call a Trojan Horse law. The government expands its powers in ways we’d normally see and agree are unconstitutional by wrapping said expansion in an emotionally charged set of circumstances.”- Phoenix Arizona man

Right wing fundamentalists will attack you personally if you disagree with them. They will question your education, your religion, your patriotism, make threats, and could very well show up at your front door with a shotgun. They title their jingoistic letters to the editor “Illegals Go Home!”or“America First” and bark in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.
To hear them tell it, their family arrived here “legally” via the Mayflower, or Ellis Island, learned English immediately, worked steadily, paid their taxes promptly, and every one of them fought in our armed forces. None of them ever even so much as made an illegal U-turn, or ripped a “do not remove under penalty of law” tag off a pillow. To them, the Mexicans are a faceless flood of humanity streaming over the border unabated, not speaking English, not paying taxes, stealing our government services, living on the dole, and getting free health care. And unlike we Americans, the Mexicans are criminals! Gangsters, murderers, pimps, drug dealers, rapists! And if you don’t agree, then maybe you’re a commie pinko and you’re part of the problem, ya’ damn hippie bleeding heart liberal. The truth, like everything else in the United States, is a bit more complex. The Mexicans are like us in more ways than they are different.

White people are so quick to forget their Italian, German, Polish and Irish ancestors also faced persecution when they came over here; many ‘illegally’ as well. How quickly we forget…or find some reason to justify this racism.” –Chicago man.

The left wing, on the other end of the spectrum, shout through the streets with signs and swastika t-shirts, demanding Arizona be boycotted as punishment for this affront to human rights. They demand the Lakers wear “Los Lakers” jerseys when playing “Los Suns”. The Arizona Boycott was actually initiated by one of our own politicians, Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona’s 7th Congressional District. Seattle now joins the ranks of several other West Coast cities officially “boycotting” Arizona, including San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Heavily Hispanic pro-baseball teams
have entertained thoughts of relocating their spring training camps from Arizona. Phoenix officials estimated a potential loss of $90 million dollars in canceled tourism and conferences. I’m basically a lefty, a Democratic fish swimming forever upstream in Republican stronghold. I’m accustomed to people disagreeing with my politics.
However, the “activists” and their boycotting are just as unreasonable as the fear mongering right wing. One must wonder how many of them have even read the bill, and how many have merely jumped on a bandwagon of negativity because it’s currently the cause currently in vogue. Boycotting Arizona is wrong, and it will hurt all the wrong people: the working class folks, the small businesses, the school and park systems.

Arizona has only been a state for 98 years. Prior to that, it was a territory. And before that, for much longer than it’s been any part of the USA, this land was property of Mexico, shared with the native tribes who’ve inhabited the land since time immemorial. The Chicano culture is the fabric that holds Arizona, a state full of snowbirds and transplants, together. This stirs much of the anger surrounding the new law. Mexican families with history here far longer than many of us more recent arrivals will now be potentially suspect.
“Clearly, and bluntly, the state law is racist and discriminatory against so-called ‘illegal immigrants’ crossing the borders from the South, namely from Mexico,” said Simon Ortiz, a Native American Studies Professor at Arizona State University, “Many of the border crossers are indigenous peoples who are directly affected. Without any doubt, the law is wrong headed; it targets people who fit a certain profile.”

Self-righteous supporters of SB 1070 conveniently neglect to mention that however “legally” they believe their ancestors arrived, they were still setting foot on land forcibly taken from Native American tribes. Perhaps Arizona’s Hopi, Navajo, Yavapai Apache, Havasupai, Pima, Maricopa, and Tohono O’Odham tribes should start asking us all for our paperwork.

Bottom line is, we’re ALL illegal! We stole this country from the Native Americans! They should tell us all to get the f #!&* out!”- Jerome Arizona woman.

The Federal Immigration and Nationality Act, already in effect nationwide, states that any alien citizens present in the U.S. must present documentation upon request. American citizens are required by law to present drivers licenses and proof of insurance if stopped by highway patrol. Traveling through most European nations requires frequent presentation of identification, even within borders. In Texas borderlands, police strictly monitor roads, asking for documentation from all.

“Don’t even get me started. Here in El Paso, Border Patrol and police are pulling us over and checking our identification all the time… I think illegal immigrants are a slap in the face insult to people like my father who immigrated here legally.”- Texas woman.

People (from all countries) immigrate here illegally because we have a demand for cheap, below minimum wage labor. Many industrial and agricultural economies are carried on the backs of illegal laborers. This is 100% our fault. Despite rigid laws already in place in Arizona, sanctioning business owners with substantial fines for lacking proper documentation of their employees, illegal immigrants still find work easily. Most of the Mexicans I know, legal and illegal, are extremely wary of the government, being basically distrustful of their own, and tend not to go anywhere there’s paperwork. This includes any type of social services. According to Department of Homeland Security statistics, illegal immigrants are estimated to pay about $7 billion dollars per year into Social Security, a system from which they will never reap any benefit.

US Immigration allows illegal immigration, in fact encourages it! The nation’s cheap industrial food production and processing depends on immigrant labor. Folks want cheap food, but they fail to link the fact that it requires cheap labor!”- Washington state woman.

Fact: It is not easy to become an American citizen. You cannot just show up and sign the guest book, like people joke. It’s grown a bit more complicated than it was when the Statue of Liberty waved folks into Ellis Island. Back then, you got photographed, examined, quarantined, perhaps given American-ish new names to better assimilate, and sent on to your way. In order to apply for citizenship in the 21st century one is generally required to have family already here, or marry into one. You need to have special work skills, and/or an education of value to our country, or be seeking political asylum.
After 5 years of “Resident Alien” status, one may apply for naturalized citizenship.
It is a lengthy process.

Approximately 140,000 immigrant visas are available each fiscal year for aliens (and their spouses and children) who seek to immigrate based on their job skills. If you have the right combination of skills, education, and/or work experience and are otherwise eligible, you may be able to live permanently in the United States.”
- United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

100 years ago, when my maternal great grandparents arrived on the Cunard Line’s “Ultonia” from Serbia, all you had to do was pretty much show up. In 1910, as the Ultonia entered New York Harbor, my grandmother was born on board and became an instant citizen. My great-grandmother, Ana Komlenich, lived in Chicago for 75 years without ever learning more than a few words of English. She signed her name with an “x”. She laughed uncontrollably at The Three Stooges. Despite her lack of assimilation, my great grandmother was part of our nation’s story just as much as anyone.

A woman requesting to be known only as an “Anonymous Business Owner and Long-time Tax Payer in Arizona” shares her thoughts about SB 1070:
I am against any frivolous law. It is already illegal to be here illegally. If you get stopped for a traffic violation and you don't have a valid US driver's license, it is already in the authority of the officer to request additional documentation…As a US citizen, if I was pulled over, could not produce a valid driver's license AND lied to the cop about my address, I am going to JAIL, regardless of my citizenship status,” Ms. Anonymous continues, “People on both sides of the argument (and let me tell you, I have had knock down drag out fights with people on both sides) have completely lost sight of what this law actually says. Most of the arguments I hear for, and some against, have absolutely no bearing on the actual content of this absurd law…

“I know ranchers along the border, and there is no way that this law is going to stop coyote and drug violence as they cross over. In fact, all this law is likely to do is catch a few illegal immigrants who have already been here for a while and are too dumb to A) not get a fake social security card, then valid driver's license and/or B) not get stopped for violating a traffic law--all this is likely to be LONG after they have crossed the border…

“Yes, immigration is a problem, but SB1070 isn't going to actually DO anything but piss off everyone. If Jan Brewer's only intention was to call national attention to a problem, then this was inarguably a tremendous success. Arizona is now the object of hatred the world over. Yippee!”

Obviously, an immigration reform needs to happen. For the safety and dignity of all people, both citizens of the US and citizens of the world. Checking documents will not keep out the drug cartels and the high dollar criminals who can afford the best paperwork and bribes money can buy (-just like banning guns will not prevent the criminal element from owning them.)
People don’t just cross the border in the dark of night. John McCain’s fence won’t keep them at bay. They cross on the highway in broad daylight. They arrive in cars, planes, boats, trains. They come as tourists and overstay their visas. And despite popular belief, they’re not all from Mexico.

“I don’t hear that they’re going after all of the illegal Irish immigrants working in New York bars.” – Brooklyn woman, currently residing in Scottsdale AZ.

Illegals pay thousands of dollars to unscrupulous middlemen to be stuffed into trunks, or packed tightly into the backs of vans. In Arizona, coyotes dump them off in the most dangerous stretches of lonesome desert, to battle the devastating heat of summer, and risk death by dehydration. Leaving trails of garbage, clothing, blankets, plastic, diapers throughout the desert, depending on the kindness of far flung ranchers to supply water.
It’s truly surprising that capitalist America hasn’t realized they’re missing out on a real goldmine here! A big money maker for our weakened budgets. Instead of paying coyotes for illegal passage and risking their lives to arrive in the U.S., immigrants could pay the U.S. government, to register into work program, complete with legal documents, and safe journey into the United States. Illegal immigrants already here could register for such a program as well, perhaps with references, background checks, employers and sponsors getting involved.

Hey smart people of beautiful Arizona!
Let’s entertain some better ideas on how to deal with this issue.
Instead of shouting over each other ALL IN CAPS, maybe instead we hash out the best of our ideas, stir them in a melting pot called America, and make something good out of all this.

Ellen Jo Roberts lives in an undisclosed location in Clarkdale Arizona.
She wrote a letter to Governor Jan Brewer. She’s not yet heard back.


  1. Excellent assessment of a very complex issue. Bravo.

  2. One very excellent and comprehensive report on the Arizona controversy. It is material that all on both side of the issue should read; it is one that government officials should read and TRY to comprehend.

    This is an issue that cannot be fixed by ideological band-aids, it will take a very large round table and more than a few minutes to solve this issue.

    It is an issue that could fill volumes if one told of personal experiences, both negative and positive, but someone other than an official needs to write the book on American Patriotism in the Hispanic Community. Hopefully, it will be Ellen Jo. With only a bit of mindset change, she will be able to present both sides fairly and squarely.

    Robert L. Huffstutter

  3. You make some very good points. I have a feeling the correct solution is somewhere in the middle of the left and right. When emotions get in the way, people will usually take a side and defend it at all costs.
    Loved the Article, Vic