April 23, 2010

Arizona—The State of Hate

This blog was written by Gerald Lenoir, Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. If you agree with his opinion, please click here and take Four Actions for Justice and against SB1070 in Arizona. Thank you.

In my opinion, the State of Arizona should officially change its name to the State of Hate to reflect its current and historical racist attitudes and actions toward Latinos and African Americans.

On Thursday, April 15, over 800 federal, state and local agents swooped into four Arizona communities - Nogales, Rio Rico, Tucson and Phoenix - in an action described by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as “targeting human smuggling networks.” The massive show of force netted only 47 suspects. The raid reinforced the racist, anti-immigrant climate already prevalent in the state.

On Friday, April 23, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law SB 1070, legalizing racial profiling of Latinos in her state. Local law enforcement is empowered to stop and question anyone they have “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, which is not defined in the bill. There is already rampant racial profiling in Arizona and now, it will be done under the color of law. Legitimizing racial profiling threatens the rights not just of Latino immigrants, but also all people of color, including African Americans.

This is not the first time that Arizona has showed its true colors. Currently, there is a bill pending in the state legislature that would require presidential candidates to prove that they were born in the United States. This measure was introduced as a result of the patently false claim that Barak Obama was not born in this country. Arizona legislators and member of the “birther movement” will deny it but I say it’s one more example of racist attitudes towards our first black president.

And remember the fight over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday? In 1983, Senator John McCain of Arizona voted against establishing a federal holiday in Dr. King’s honor. In 1986, the Arizona state legislature failed to pass a bill for a King holiday but the governor at the time, Bruce Babbitt issued an executive order for the state holiday. In 1987, newly elected Republican Governor Evan Mecham rescinded the executive order, remarking, “I guess King did a lot for the colored people but I don’t think he deserves a national holiday.”

The criminalization of black and brown people has been happening for a long time in these United States. One only has to look at the disproportionate incarceration rates for our youth versus white youth. Now, immigrants of color are being criminalized. So-called “illegal aliens” are being demonized for the “crime” of crossing the border without legal papers, which is a civil, not criminal, offense.

But who are the real criminals? The U.S. government and U.S. corporations who are complicit in forcing the flow of migration. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for example, Mexico opened its markets to subsidized food crops from the United States. The result is that three million Mexican farmers could not compete with cheap U.S. commodities and lost their land and their livelihood. Many of them, along with their families, have migrated to the U.S. looking for jobs.

So, let me get this right, the United States invades the economy of another country and the economic refugees that come here are labeled illegal? What’s wrong with this picture?

I say that people have a right to stay in their own country. U.S. intervention has deprived them of that right. And now the State of Hate will punish the victims.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer promises to increase the hostility towards immigrants and create the United States of Hate, if you will. Senator Schumer stated on Monday, “We believe our blueprint is even stronger than the Arizona senators’ proposal in stopping the flow of illegal immigrants because our plan both increases border security and prevents employers from hiring illegal immigrants.”

According to Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, a Tucson-based immigrant rights group, “U.S. Policy and Border Patrol and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] actions have resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4,000 migrants due to environmental exposure since 1996… This area has become a vast killing field for migrants. Last year, at least 205 bodies were recovered in Arizona alone and who knows how many more whose bodies have not been found in this remote vast oven where the desert floor reaches temperatures of 175 degrees. It is impossible to know. It is a horrific death.”

People who are trying to support themselves and their families are driven from their homes and their country, risk their lives in the harsh Sonoran Desert, and if they make it to the United States, face being treated as criminal, jailed, and deported without due process.

We all must oppose this blatant oppression. I especially call on the African American community to link arms with Latino and immigrant communities to speak out against these blatant forms of racism and economic exploitation. The rightwing politicians, organizations and movements that oppose immigrant rights are not the friends of African American communities.

We have more in common with immigrants of color. We know firsthand about racism and economic exploitation. And we have faced the hostile mobs, biased employers and racist legislators. So, which side are we on?