Above is a picture of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio standing in front of his favorite action toy, an armored vehicle with a mounted 50 caliber machine gun. He enjoys using it for important war-like tactical events like raiding a person’s alleged cockfighting ranch (with Steven Segal), or for patrolling the Arizona desert in search of illegal immigrants.
This is just one example of the increasing militarization of Arizona. Further evidence is provided by the military-type tactics being implemented along Arizona’s border with Mexico. This video, released earlier this week by Shining Soul, provides a picture of current conditions along the border:
Armored vehicles, razor-wire barricades and military drones have become commonplace in southern Arizona. This is something we would normally expect to see in video images of the Pakistan, Gaza, or West Bank borders, but not Arizona.
Am I living in a war zone?
Much of Arpaio’s actions, of course, are done merely for self-promotion. He wants to have his “big guns” on show as often as possible to enhance his self-perceived John Wayne image. In a similar fashion, he likes to display his “America’s toughest sheriff” image by marching out his county jail inmates (chained together in old-fashioned black and white stripped prison garb) as he planned to do earlier this month in front of Chase Field during the All Star Game festivities. Or, by giving reporters a tour of his infamous tent city, where many of the inmates are incarcerated for non-violent immigration offenses:
What is often overlooked is the inhumane death and suffering that takes place every day in the desert as a result of our current immigration policies. Last year 200 immigrants were found dead in Pima County alone. Most of these people died of dehydration or heat-related causes. Very few have even been identified for proper burials.
Sheriff Arpaio and other community leaders are ignoring this humanitarian crisis, saying that they are simply enforcing existing state and federal immigration laws. But, are the existing state and federal immigration laws addressing the real humanitarian needs of the American people.
Until very recently our immigration policy was directed toward focusing on temporary work programs, amnesty, and ways to streamline naturalization procedures - But not anymore. Today, the placid mask of rational thinking has been removed to reveal the ugly face of xenophobic rage:
This isn’t the first time we’ve been through a period of xenophobic hysteria. I wrote earlier about the Mexican Repatriation Act which “was a cynical act passed by Congress in 1930 to make it appear that our government was taking action against the rapidly increasing unemployment at the beginning of the Great Depression.” It wasn’t until decades later, and after the deportation of a million innocent Mexicans, that we realized that the Latino presence had no impact on unemployment. The California and US governments have recently drafted legislation to apologize for that incident.
Earlier this year I attended an anti-SB1070 rally in downtown Phoenix. Like the rally shown in the video below, it was well attended by many peaceful demonstrators as well as some very vocal hate-group protesters standing off to the side:
What bothered me most about that event was the raw hatred voiced by the seemingly normal-looking people standing outside of the rally. Many of them looked like the people I see everyday at Safeway or the local library.
Arizona has become the main battleground for immigration reform in this country. The anti-immigration movement is the American equivalent of the anti-multicultural movement being exhibited in Europe today. The racial profiling laws (like SB1070) along with the strong anti-Latino rhetoric being voiced by key law enforcement officers, state government officials and political pundits are bringing the latent xenophobic elements of Arizona society onto the streets in increasing numbers.
Frankly, I’m very concerned about how many Anders Breiviks I may have seen that day on the rally sidelines.