Friday, April 23, 2010

Welcome to the Arizona Gestapo

As I begin this post, my TV is tuned to CNN so I can watch Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signing SB 1070 into law, giving law enforcement agents in the state the power to arrest anyone they suspect to be in the country illegally. Supporters say the law is necessary because of the violence of the Mexican cartels that is spilling over into our state. But one terrible reality is that this is going to make it easier for criminals to prey on otherwise law-abiding people whose only crime is that they don't have a green card. And because of the possibility of undue harassment, it will make a lot more people, especially Latinos, hesitate even more than in the past before they report a crime that's been committed against them.

When a Latino woman is raped, she's going to be even more afraid to report the crime now than she was before this law goes into effect. Even minor crimes are going to increase in immigrant communities, while any semblance of law enforcement will virtually disappear, because so many people will be afraid to report it to the authorities, if not for themselves, then at least for their friends and neighbors.

In fact, I know personally of at least one person, and possibly more, who work in a public service agency and have taken financial advantage of Latino clients, including a couple of friends of mine. Even though one of the victims I know is a citizen, born in Casa Grande (yes, we're part of the United States, albeit a mere 60 miles from the border!), the other is a legal immigrant who was raised in California and Arizona and has been married to a citizen for more than a decade. They're perfectly legal residents, yet they're still afraid to speak up for themselves, despite the fact that they know for sure that others like them have also been taken advantage of--all of them for several thousand dollars apiece, and all of them Hispanic, with at least one non-citizen in each family!

And remember, all this criminal activity committed against Latino victims took place a couple of years before SB 1070. This new law is just going to add a new layer of fear to all the residents of minority communities, even among people who are citizens or at least are in this country legally. Another effect will probably be a diaspora of workers out of Arizona, again, not all of whom are in this country illegally. In fact, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico warned Brewer against signing the bill, in part because of the number of people who would flee her state and settle in his, just east of Arizona.

And if Arizonans think that's a good thing, they should look at the example of Prince William County, Virginia, which for a couple of months in 2007 had a similarly tough law to fight their "illegal problem." When all the Hispanics left the county as a result, the economic impact was immediate and widespread. That's why the law lasted only two months, taking an edge off the economic brunt of the legal battle that is also being threatened by activists here in Arizona.

It's interesting to note one more factor that's received bare mention during the runup to this bill becoming law: Anti-immigration laws are generally being passed and signed by members of the party that has vehemently opposed national legislation that would solve the immigration problem, illegal and otherwise. Republicans aren't willing to admit that the upper class that is their mainstay is the same class that makes illegal immigration possible and gets the most economic benefit from the practice. And as experiences in Prince William County and elsewhere demonstrate, the overall economic impact of immigrants, whether legal or otherwise, benefits everyone. Running all the Latinos out of town--or in the case of SB 1070, out of the state--is counterproductive to improving the economy during a severe recession.

And since one more argument for SB 1070 has been that state officials don't believe federal authorities are doing a good enough job harassing the Hispanic population, consider one more experience related to me by a couple of my Latino friends: The man was born in Mexico but raised in the states, his wife is a natural-born citizen whose parents were born in Mexico, and like their mother, both their children were born here in Arizona. The wife and kids all had their passports, and she had her Arizona commercial driver license, while the man had his Arizona commercial driver license, his green card, and a legally obtained visa for their trip to Mexico to visit his parents for several weeks.

On the way back to their home in Arizona, they were stopped by the Border Patrol and questioned. In spite of all the documentation that proved their legal status, they were held for over two hours and threats were made that they might not be able to stay together as a family. The wife told me later that she feared they could at least deport her husband and possibly even take away her children as well. In the end, the family were allowed to continue on their way, very much the worse for their experience!

If the immigrant-haters don't believe members of the Border Patrol are doing their job of harassing legal residents who "look like" "illegal" immigrants, they should take this story to heart. Instead, the state will have to cut even more money from "unnecessary" services like education and health care for poor children, because it's going to cost them a packet of money defending this immoral law in the federal courts!

Meanwhile, laws like SB 1070 just inspire me to keep writing about why we need to find win-win-win solutions to the situations that lead to such horrendous statutes. In the end, I always return to the premise that the root cause of all these problems is poverty. If we would do what is necessary to end poverty, not only in our country but throughout the world, poor people would not have to leave their home countries and move to places where they can earn enough money to buy the basic goods and services their families need to enjoy a dignified existence. In the long run, ending poverty would benefit us all. The only thing we need is the social, moral, and political will to accomplish the task. Until then, I'll keep on writing about the possibilities.

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