Heather Michon

Heather Michon
June 25
Follow me on Twitter @heathermichon

MAY 17, 2010 11:03AM

Dispatch From Arizona: SB1070 & Our National Amensia

Rate: 7 Flag

I arrived in Phoenix for a visit with family on Friday and was somewhat surprised that I didn't see the Gestapo checking papers at the Arrivals gate at Sky Harbor. For the last couple of weeks all the news about Arizona led me to believe a scorpion-infested police state was rising up over the desert sands.

As a former resident of the Grand Canyon State, I haven't know quite what to think or feel about SB1070, the controversial new illegal immigration law. My left side is profoundly sorry for Hispanic Americans, legal and otherwise, caught up in this mess. My right side thinks it's about damn time.

Outside the state, the consensus view goes something like this: illegal immigration isn't really a problem; illegals come here to work hard at those jobs Americans emphatically refuse to do and pay more into the social system than they ever get out of it; white Arizonans are just a bunch of nasty old bigots who refuse to accept the wonderful diversity of our national melting pot and should just hurry up and die, already.

And there's an element of truth to this view.

But the flip side of the argument -- the one nobody seems to want to talk about -- is that the current system does nobody any favors.

  • It's unfair to the undocumented workers who are forced into the hands of unscrupulous coyotes or into dangerous desert crossings, only to be paid pathetically low wages and to live as a member of an underclass.
  • It's unfair to Hispanic Americans who come here legally, but are constantly lumped in with those who are flouting the laws.
  • It's unfair to legal American workers who might take those jobs absorbed by the undocumented. (Are there really jobs Americans wont do? Or are there just jobs Americans aren't willing to do for less than $7 an hour?)
  • It's unfair to business owners who want to play by the rules, but can't compete with less honest employers who are happy to pay undocumented workers a pittance under the table.
  • It's unfair to the public at large, for while 99% of illegal immigrants are peaceful and productive shadow citizens, that 1% who are not can do a hell of  lot of damage

The outrage over SB1070 seems to stem from a set of rosy isconceptions about who we are as a nation.

"Racial profiling is un-American." There may be a few enlightened beings out there who don't, but most of us racially profile every day of our lives. White, black, Hispanic, Asian, law enforcement or civilian, we all harbor race-based assumptions that affect how we interact with others. It's not wrong to want to hold the state to a higher standard, but we also have to accept that it may not be possible. Nobody is color-blind.

"America is a nation of immigrants, and this law goes against our tradition of embracing diversity." It's fine to get all misty-eyed about my Irish great-granny or your Italian grandpa, but, in reality, the only group that every arrived in America without raising hackles were the first peoples who crossed the Bearing Sea and filtered into the un-peopled continent. Out history is riddled with actions against newcomers that make SB1070 look like a walk in a dewy spring meadow. Xenophobia is one of those things that seem to be hard-wired into humanity. Americans are no different that any other nation, region, religion, or tribe. We fear the outsider. At best, we should strive to factor this bias into our immigration policies to make them more fair to those who want to build a life here.

"Illegal immigrants should just be left to work in peace." This, to me, is the most inhumane assumption. Studies show that that illegal workers earn $27,000 a year if they're lucky. More than they could earn at home, but poverty wages relative to the cost of living in the U.S. today. Most are ghettoized or transient. Many are forced to work in unsafe conditions, with a high number suffering injuries and far too many killed. And there are uncounted thousands in this country who may look like undocumented workers but are, in fact, slaves....their owners hiding behind our national paralysis in dealing with illegal immigration.

So, by all means, boycott Arizona is you feel SB1070 if you feel it's an offense to the nation. Stew in your moral superiority. Then come up with something better. Something that allows all who come here to live in dignity.

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Might be difficult to judge the law until it actually takes effect this summer. Will enforcement simply bolster ongoing immigration enforcement, or will local cops use it to harrass Hispanics in general? Perhaps unfair that the state is paying a price for crimes not committed (yet?), but maybe they could have considered how the law would affect their tourism business before they passed it.

Click on my avatar for a view from Highland Park, Illinois, whose school district made headlines by refusing to allow a sports team to participate in a tournament there.

Finally someone making some sense instead of knee jerking a blather blog.

Watch a season of "Dirty Jobs" if you think Americans, let alone white Americans won't work crap jobs for next to nothing.
Excellent synopsis. Don't you think if they were truly serious about fixing this issue, they would just make it a crime to hire illegals and then enforce it? I thought I read sometime last year that AZ was doing just that....
I agree with many of your points - we DO need to address issues such as eliminating the shadow economy that lives on under-minimum wage workers. Not doing so IS unfair to all legal workers and companies playing by the rules. And people immigrating illegally are at the mercy of horrible people who do everything from strand them in the desert to rob them to make them slaves.

But, and it's an important "but", we can't stoop to racial profiling as our solution. Just because we know people do it, have always done it and will always do it doesn't mean it's something we want to institutionalize and legitimize. That's like saying "Well, people have always stolen from each other and they always will". True, but we still make sure it's not legal.
The Amnesia? What about the Myopia? Not one of the gentry had any issues with the Bracero program since, basically, we beat up Mexico and took the southwest. Little bit of problem here with a gigantic case of hypocrisy: Arizona, the Aztec language sure is sweet, BTW, is ground zero for the results of the right and their psuedo-hero commie slayer Reagan's racist and fascist "War on Drugs". Height of irony when you consider his amnesty program, non? Hate the brown commies, let the CIA stew the pot, and, finish it up with a million black and brown street dealers in the circle of parole/prison, no employment, parole/prison, no employment, ad nauseum. The Arizona bill is racist hate, the squawk about drugs and mules on the border is the legacy of the right's credulity and massive fraud- there is just no getting around it- Arizona did nothing when Reagan gave amnesty, did nothing during a white democrat from the south's two terms, did absolutely nothing about it during two terms of their own man, because they knew he was actually, incredibly, for the brown, his own relatives, even. Way to go, Jeb, but now, with a Black Man in office it is suddenly time to act! and act unconstitutionally, and act right away!, this is racist hate, white guilt and rage bubbling up like so much regurgitation!

Again, there is just no getting around it. Tax revolts when taxes are at 1950s levels? State bills duplicating federal statutes? The baggers simply flat out would not confront their man Cheney with stuff like this, and for good reason- rendition anyone?

Deal with the drugs (did you all know all drugs are legal now in Mexico? yes, they are ... google it) this problem evaporates overnight. Oooops, deal with racist hate first. No excuses, we all remember the MLK boycott, it was not long so long ago ... this is the encore? No way, AZ will find they can't control the hate they've engendered ... watch and see.

"Something that allows all who come here to live in dignity."

Allowing local law enforcement to address immigration status will mean that people whose immigration status is in question will no longer rely on local law enforcement for protection, further marginalizing and victimizing them.

And people who would attend a loud party could be subject to deportation because somebody calls with a noise complaint. But only brown-skinned people need to worry. Only brown-skinned citizens will need to keep there documents handy.

I say be careful, Arizona, you just might end up with the police state you wish for.

Just because the federal system is broken doesn't give state authorities the right to restrict the rights of their citizens.

And all this in the state that celebrates Sheriff Joe Arpaio, "the self-proclaimed 'toughest sheriff in America.'"
I'll repeat the comment that I've posted on other pieces about this legislation. Illegal immigration is a problem that needs to be addressed seriously on a national scale. Ordinarily my political views are moderate and anything but alarmist. But this law turns my stomach. No matter what the wording or the stated intention, it will be applied solely to one race and that is an approach that seems fundamentally at odds with American ideals. No, I don't necessarily have a better suggestion and I'm not as knowledgable about this subject as I wish, but this law feels like shooting at flies with an Uzi.