Thursday, April 29, 2010

Apartheid Returns to America: SB 1070, the "Papers Please" Law

There’s only one way an American can repay the debt for our Constitution and Bill of Rights—among the world’s greatest guarantees of dignity, liberty, and equality—and that’s to pay it forward. When we fail to do that, when we deliberately jettison somebody else’s rights and dignity, we spit in the face of God.

SB 1070, the harsh new “Papers Please” law that Arizona’s GOP government just enacted, requires Arizona police to demand the papers of anyone they “reasonably suspect” is in the country illegally. It also says that any person can sue the authorities if they don’t do just that.

Ironically, SB 1070 does nothing to stop illegal border crossing. Nor is it actually aimed at “illegal immigration” generically. It isn’t aimed at Canadians or Europeans or Icelanders or Polynesians. In Arizona, illegal immigration is a south of the border thing, meaning that this law’s effective impact is exclusively directed at Latinos, Mestizos, and Hispanics.

Unlike a border control station, SB 1070 just doesn’t treat all people equally. Blue eyed, fair skinned “illegals” have no worries. The chances they’ll be carded are zero. That makes this law unconstitutional.

Effective impact means how this law will operate in real life, so let’s get honest. There’s no way to tell by looking who’s here illegally. Given this new mandate and our proximity to Mexico, that’s going to pose a big problem for our police, because here in Arizona, 10% of the population is Native American, and 30% of the population is Latino, Mestizo, or Hispanic.

Of that combined 40%, hundreds of thousands of Arizona residents belong to families who have inhabited this land long before any Anglo ever did, which should make the prospect of carding any one of them cause repeated reflexive vomiting. And then there’s our indigenous American population. Thousands and thousands of them are in fact physically indistinguishable from a Mestizo or an indigenous Mexican, Honduran, Guatemalan, or Ecuadorian, and all of them are in fact citizens of the 21 other sovereign nations in Arizona that we call tribes.

Because this law requires our police to detain anyone they merely suspect might be here illegally; and because it targets Latinos, Mestizos, Hispanics, and Native Americans exclusively, it combines everyone in these groups—US citizens, tribe members, legal residents, illegal residents alike—into one giant suspect class based on nothing but racial characteristics such as skin and eye color, facial structure, and body type.

In other words, unless our governor in her vast wisdom produces other criteria for identifying a suspected illegal immigrant, it seems inescapable that SB 1070 will force Arizona's jurisdictions to engage in illegal racial profiling—there being no alternative—or be sued. That’s called legitimized race discrimination.

So, thanks to SB 1070, now all Arizona residents whose skin or eye color, facial structure, or body type may provide “reasonable suspicion” of illegal residency must now carry papers in case they are stopped--on mere suspicion and without warrant. My citizen friend Antonio, who looks like a Mayan prince, could be detained when he walks his dog. My citizen friend Roberto, a former Senate chief of staff, could also be detained, as could any Hispanic, Latino, Mestizo, or indigenous US soldier. As could their families. As could physicians, and educators, and hard-working roofers, construction guys, gardeners, nannies, chefs, inventors, investors, citrus pickers, miners, architects, waiters, and artists, all because the police can’t tell by looking and our GOP government doesn’t really give a good goddamn about the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

This makes me almost indescribably angry. But it gets worse.

Added to the powers to arrest, detain, and deport without warrant, giving police the power to demand proof of citizenship on the basis of mere suspicion and without warrant is as fundamental to the police state as a network of secret prisons. In fact, it is the ground-level, on-the-street hypodermic syringe that every single one of them must have in order to inject into their people the pervasive terror that keeps them in power. Get it?

What you get when you add race discrimination to police state powers is called Apartheid. It is no less Apartheid in Phoenix than it was in Johannesburg. It is no less ugly, no less an affront to human decency, and no less a threat to the entire citizenry here in the US of A than it was in South Africa, because once this kind of thing is permitted to take root, it will only grow.

For this (I would think obvious) reason, our brilliant Constitution limits police powers, reserves border control to the federal government, protects us from unreasonable search and seizure, and prohibits indefinite detention without specific cause and due process. We undermine and debase those protections at everyone’s peril, because the generation that will sells its country’s freedoms at any price is also least equipped to buy them back again.

The bottom line here is that, as history repeatedly affirms, if given enough popular fear and outrage, lawmakers everywhere can and will justify anything, no matter how heinous or obscene. In my view, that simple truth puts the participation of Tom Tanton’s Immigration Reform Law Institute in writing SB 1070 into what I hope is horrifying focus. Please: Follow that link.

A lawyer for the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI)--the group that helped write Arizona's law--boasted about being "approached by lawmakers from four other states who have asked for advice on how they can do the same thing. IRLI is the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Immigration Reform (FAIR), an extreme anti-immigrant group that has recently been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. 'In a nutshell, the IRLI has been behind most, if not every, local legislative immigration crackdown over the past few years. . . .'
[The Progress Report, April 29, 2010] Please: Follow that link, too.

In other words, entities that the very estimable Southern Poverty Law Center calls “hate groups,” entities that, with the help of Fox News and Lou Dobbs and Glen Beck and Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh other loud-mouthed Far Right propagandists, have been spewing virulent lies for years about the extent and consequences of illegal Hispanic, Latino, Mestizo, and indigenous immigration are now drafting Arizona state law.

If that doesn't frighten you and make you hopping mad, either you’re not breathing or you’re stupider than a can of sand, and you sure as hell aren’t an American patriot.

I'm scared and I'm furious. I’m also frightened and sickened by the enormous erosion in the last 30 years of Americans’ common understanding of ourselves as a people and of what we stand for as a nation. More and more of us—mostly good people, many well educated—are entirely ready to jettison somebody else’s constitutional protections in less time than it takes to strike a match, and then have a party to brag about it.

We’ve already seen Americans lie down and take it as GOP lawmakers happily cut out some of our constitutional right of privacy and some of our habeas corpus protection in the wake of 9-11. We’ve also mostly kept our mouths shut as state after state has made a lower caste of gays and lesbians. And now the Arizona GOP, unwilling to name, much less target, the real causes of illegal immigration, drug smuggling, and human trafficking, has made itself a racist police state the likes of which the USA hasn’t seen since Jim Crow.

Horribly, mystifyingly, no body of fact, no argument however elegant, no appeal to reason or Christ or common decency--no force in the known universe can make these people see that it actually isn’t white skin, flag waving, Bible thumping, and prayer in public schools that makes a person an American.

What makes us real Americans is standing up to fascism whenever, wherever, and however it arrives. It doesn’t make a bit of difference whether fascism gets here on the tip of a missile, carrying a cross and draped in the flag, or on the pen of a fundamentalist, white supremacist lawmaker, because once we let it in the door, it’s hell to get it out again. As we know.

From its predictable and profound negative economic, tourist, and international repercussions, to the human fodder this law throws to Arizona’s obscene for-profit prisons, to the hoped-for decimation of Hispanic votes in November, to the legislature’s usurpation of exclusively federal powers to regulate immigration, this law is a travesty.

But note well: This isn’t Arizona’s first modern venture into Apartheid.

In recent years, anyway, the first was Arizona’s segregation of GLBT people into a second class for which marriage and its enormous social and economic benefits are simply not accessible.

So it’s natural, now that we have yet another instance when an Arizona Republican government has intentionally created a lower-caste citizenry, that sentient beings might wonder what the third, fourth, and fifth instances will be. I’m deadly serious. These Christianist, Far Right extremists have a rather developed taste for limiting other people’s freedoms. As they’ve got Tom Tanton and Fox News to give them political cover, and an unusually high number of really whipped-up bone-stupid voters, and don’t hold themselves even the teensiest bit accountable to the Constitution and Bill of Rights, what’s to stop them?

People will always find reasons, but both the truth of history and the founding of our own country surely shout that nothing ever justifies spitting on the principles that make us uniquely American and for which many generations of our families and neighbors—yes, even “anchor babies,” “coloreds,” “Indians,” and “queers”—have died.

As pundit Michael Gerson put it in yesterday's Washington Post, the only truly American answer to “May I see your papers, please?” is “Go to hell! I’ll see you in court.”

Soon as that's past our lips we'd best deal quickly with the REAL causes of illegal immigration, starting with multinationals' pillaging of the nations south of the border, the American agribusiness, meatpacking, construction, and entertainment business demand for cheap (and even slave) labor, and shoe-shined Wall Street coke dealers.


Ted McLaughlin said...

Bravo! I wish I had your way with words.

Pamela Penman said...

Don't forget about the suburbanites who insist on manicured lawns for $15 a pop.
This is brilliant. A masterpiece! Well done, Pico.