When we study history, we are subject to a range of concepts that showcase the utter best and worst of humanity. Forced to absorb all the horrid details of war, racism, abuse, cruelty and complete disregard for civil liberties, we tell ourselves that we are remembering every unjust detail so that we will never reproduce such abhorrent behavior and so that history will never ever repeat itself.
And so, children today learn of Nazi Germany, where Jews were forced to carry ID cards. They learn of apartheid South Africa, where Blacks and whites were viciously separated. And they learn of the divisive, segregationist laws of Jim Crow here in the U.S.–all with the aim that they will not live to see a day when groups of people will be systematically targeted and profiled. But if we allow Arizona legislature SB 1070, commonly known as the anti-immigration bill, to take effect this summer, we all will have failed our children. And history as we know it will replay right before our very eyes.
Last week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the most controversial and blatant anti-immigration legislation into law, requiring police officers to detain people they “reasonably suspect” are in the country illegally. Translation: Anyone who is even routinely stopped for a traffic violation, or simply because an officer has “suspicion,” will now be forced to produce paperwork that can verify his or her legal status. That means that a parent walking his or her child to school, a grandparent sitting on his or her own lawn or a college student simply going to class will now be subject to arbitrary harassment, profiling and intimidation.
And those who may forget their “papers” at home, misplace them or just not produce the appropriate documentation face fines of up to $2,500 and six months in jail. Adding insult to injury, the SB 1070 bill also allows ordinary citizens and minutemen alike to sue the local government if they feel the state immigration law is not being enforced.
It is incomprehensible that in 2010, with an African-American president in the White House, that such overt acts of racism, bigotry and injustice are transpiring before us. Perhaps it is a backlash against all the recent progress we have achieved, or perhaps it is a response to the growing economic hurdles families continue to face around the country. But no matter what the cause, injustice cannot and will not be tolerated in our society.
As a student of the teachings of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I refuse to sit idly by and accept this xenophobic law that reeks of a sense of entitlement and a notion of “otherness.” I stand firm with the Hispanic Federation and other Latino/Hispanic organizations as we demand a repeal of SB 1070. And I echo Arizona’s own Congressman Raul Grijalva in a call to boycott the state. We must cancel all conventions in Arizona, re-route any planned vacations and refuse to add one cent to the state’s economy until we see a concerted effort to end this destructive bill.
In the 1960s, we organized Freedom Riders to challenge the inequities present around us, and today we will organize “Freedom Walkers” to march in the streets of Arizona without identification and face arrest in order to voice our extreme disapproval of this legislation.
This bill will not only result in open racial profiling and create an environment of fear and mistrust, but it will also lead to increased crime in those communities where people may become weary of calling on police because of immigration worries. There is no win with this bill, and no justification for its enactment. President Obama himself referred to it as “misguided” and has called on the Justice Department to investigate its constitutionality and legality.
As we fast approach May 1, a day marked with protests for the rights of all immigrants, we must remember the 12 million across our nation who are contributing to the very fabric of daily life. We cannot allow Arizona’s SB 1070 to become law, for it sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the nation. We must instead push for real, sustainable national immigration reform that does not demonize nor criminalize human beings based on the color of their skin. Just like the marches and boycotts of the ’60s resulted in the Voting Rights Act, perhaps this reprehensible bill will serve as a catalyst for true reform.
It is somewhat ironic that Republicans have worked so diligently to court the Hispanic vote over the past few years. Gov. Brewer, John McCain and other elected officials in support of this legislation need to remember that the Hispanic constituency–the fastest growing in America–is paying close attention to what transpires in Arizona. And believe me, they will remember come November…and every election thereafter.