Monday, April 26, 2010

Fear of a Brown Planet: Some Reflections On the New Immigration Law in Arizona

The announcement of Arizona's latest push against "illegal" immigrants really did take most of us by surprise. Sure, there are ongoing tensions about the issue of undocumented workers streaming across borders in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas...or arriving by other means in other parts of the United States.

Yet few people outside the state had a hint that Governor Jan Brewer would sign a bill that literally puts most Arizonans of Latino origin in a separate racial category under the most severe legal scrutiny that one could imagine.

Indeed, the new immigration laws make it practically mandatory for law enforcement officers in Arizona to stop people who "look" to be Latino/Latina and compel them to produce documentation proving their immigration status. And this doesn't just mean persons being arrested for the suspicion of committing crime. It means , literally, anyone who, based purely on their race/appearance, is suspected of possibly being in the USA without proper documentation. And if the papers aren't produced, the suspect faces a fine of up to $2,500, a jail sentence of six months, and in the worst case, deportation.

( I presume here-and this is a generalization-that people of 'European" phenotype are unlikely to be presumed targets of the law.

But Latino organizations, and their allies across the racial line, are not taking this lying down. Numerous organizations, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Council for La Raza, and the League of United Latin American Citizens, are staging press conferences, mass rallies and marches in opposition to the new law. Allied civil rights organizations like the National Action Network have announced plans to bring masses of "Freedom Walkers" to Arizona, and march in the streets-without proof of citizenship-in open, nonviolent defiance of Governor Brewer's edict.

Muslim organizations, too, are not remaining silent about the issue, and political alliances between Muslim and Latino civil rights formations are already starting to take on a new sense of urgency.

Further, the economic consequences of the enforcement of the new law are likely to be sticky: There is even talk now that the law will make it harder for Arizona to generate revenue from foreign trade in the Americas, or to entice tourists from the region who will, no doubt, feel much less welcome in the state because of their ethnic identities. There will certainly be court challenges to the legality of this new legislation. Moreover, Arizona-like South Carolina a few years ago-is not likely to be a prime location for conferences and conventions of organizations representing people of color.

And the numerous Latino police officers in the state may well start to feel like the African township police who were enlisted by racist South African security forces to become a first line of defense of Apartheid.against true Black freedom. Ironically, some of them, while out of uniform, are likely to get the same racist treatment from white cops that they will demonstrate to their own brothers and sisters suspected of being in the US illegally.

But the real backlash against this move may well be felt at the ballot box in November, when mobilized Latino voters, and their allies, are certain to show their response in November, 2010 to Governor Brewer and the state legislature.

America does need massive immigration reform. But there is widespread sentiment among many of us that this law is a divisive, unjust, and morally indefensible way to go about it. This legislation amounts to the equivalent of a "Pass" law reminiscent of racist South Africa-or the treatment of Arabs and Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

The political Right-wing may see this as a cheap way to mobilize anti-immigrant passion in America and crystallize that sentiment into another political rock to be hurled against the Obama administration. But the obverse side of the coin means that Latinos, and many others, will organize as well.

The Tea Party cry of "vote the scoundrels out" may well come back to haunt the architects of this perfidious piece of color-coded legislation, as it breathes new oxygen into the growing fire of Latino political power in Arizona, and across the nation.

Immigration reform by discrimination and ethnic intimidation may appeal to crude xenophobia and even racial prejudice. But this sort of legislation is absolutely not the way forward.

Ibrahim Ramey

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