A Reasonable Suspicion of Bigotry
Two days ago there was a peaceful protest at the May Day Rally in Los Angeles. Sixty-thousand immigrants and their supporters turned out to show their displeasure at the new Arizona Immigration Law State Bill 1070. If you haven’t heard about it yet, you can read the gist of the law here:
For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person.
The law is being challenged. A suit has been filed by a police officer named Martin Escobar, alleging that the bill is targeting Hispanics specifically and that it is racial profiling and violates Latinos’ Constitutional rights. In Austin, our municipal government has responded by boycotting Arizona.
The people who wrote the law claim that the aim of the law is to cut down on illegal immigration to Arizona. If the law goes into effect, it will no doubt have that effect. The problem is that, much like bitter medicine, it will have many unpleasant side effects as well.
A law of reasonable suspicion such as the one worded above sounds like it makes sense. However, in reality it will specifically be used to target non-whites, primarily Mexican immigrants but also those of Arabic descent. I highly doubt if the Irish, British, Scottish, Australian, South African or Canadian immigrant will ever be asked to produce documentation, accent or no. Come on. Do any of us actually believe that someone in Arizona will be asked to provide documentation for saying, “oot and aboot,” or referring to a cigarette as a fag?
There are lots of fine people living in this country and contributing to our economy, documented or not. The above law will make them afraid to step outside their homes. It will actually increase crime since immigrants will be loathe to report incidents of crime in which they are personally victimized or crimes to others that they witness. Why should they report crime only to be harassed and deported?
The reasoning for the law is often cited as being one of jobs being taken away from legitimate Americans and fear of crime and violence from over the border. There have been instances of violent crime near the Mexican border recently. However, it’s inherently racist to state that targeting immigrants will reduce the incidence of violent crimes as if everyone knows that only Latinos commit crimes.
The jobs argument is just as ludicrious since Mexican immigrants, just as every other large group of assimilating minorities before them (Italians, Irish, Germans, Chinese, to name a few) work only those jobs that American citizens don’t want. They work the hard labor, low wage jobs. They do our gardening and landscaping and crop picking and service industry jobs, the kind of jobs that Americans don’t want with salaries we believe they can’t afford to live on. But they manage it somehow.
I understand people’s anger over perceptions that the whole of the United States is turning into North Mexico, the justified anger at undocumented aliens taking advantage of our social services and resources and not contributing enough to make up for what they take. I understand people’s frustration with the Mexican immigrants who come here for our superior economy and then seemingly insult the country that feeds them by refusing to learn our language, never mind adopting our culture. There are immigrants like that, and it is an outrage.
Let’s face it, though, we are all the descendants of immigrants. The United States is an entire country of immigrants. So, unless you are a Native American (in which case you got better injustices to bitch about than illegal immigration), the chances are pretty good that your great-great grandfather was the guy who was “stealing” some American citizen’s job.
I’m not sure what the answer is to our immigration issues. I don’t have a solution to propose. What I do know, however, is that the “solution” that Arizona is proposing is no less racist than the Japanese internment camps of World War II. What’s more, if it goes into effect it will have some negative consequences that I’m sure the citizens of Arizona aren’t anticipating.
In 2007, Oklahoma passed a similar law that received a lot of national attention. State representative Randy Terrill from Moore got a bill passed that refused social services to undocumented aliens and criminalized acts of kindness towards illegals, such as offering them transport or assistance. That’s right. In Oklahoma if you provided food to an immigrant family in need you could be arrested. (Unfortunately, I’m embarrassed to admit that I know Randy Terill personally since we went to college together, and he was an idiotic ass back then as well).
What were the results of Mr. Terrill’s great social experiment? People left the state in droves. According to an online article at the Christian Science Monitor’s website, a study showed that an estimated 50,000 people left Oklahoma as the result of the state law. There was an estimated 1.3 percent drop in economic output, and Oklahoma lost $1.8 billion in revenue.
Arizona, with a much larger Hispanic population than that of Oklahoma, stands to lose more. In addition to the loss of workforce, Arizona and Oklahoma will both have to contend with the money that they will lose in tourism as the Latino population will certainly balk at spending any money in states that are so blatantly prejudiced. Mexicans alone constituted 7.3 percent of the American population in the 2000 United States Census. Hispanics have reached a United States population of over forty-five million people. That’s a lot of tacos.