Last week, Arizona’s governor signed a strict immigration bill into law designed to crack down hard on undocumented immigrants. A firestorm of controversy erupted around the new law because it requires police to ask for documents from anyone they have a “reasonable suspicion” may be in the country illegally. Because the law does not illuminate what kinds of suspicions constitute “reasonable,” opponents have charged that it gives officials a license to and demand papers from anyone with brown skin.
On Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update segment, comedian Seth Myers cracked some jokes about the new law that harshly but accurately encapsulates my feelings about the new law.
I know there are some people in Arizona worried that Obama is acting like Hitler but can we agree that there is nothing more Nazi than saying ‘show me your papers?’ There’s never been a WWII movie that didn’t include the line ‘show me your papers.’ It’s their catch phrase. Every time someone says ‘show me your papers,’ Hitler’s family gets a residual check. So heads up Arizona, that’s fascism.
I really never thought I’d see the day where in the United States of America, we would permit the police to lock somebody up for not being able to produce a birth certificate on the spot. If you think that’s an over-the-top interpretation of what this new law would put into practice, unfortunately it isn’t at all:
PHOENIX – A Valley man says he was pulled over Wednesday morning and questioned when he arrived at a weigh station for his commercial vehicle along Val Vista and the 202 freeway.
Abdon, who did not want to use his last name, says he provided several key pieces of information but what he provided apparently was not what was needed.
He tells 3TV, “I don’t think it’s correct, if I have to take my birth certificate with me all the time.”
3TV caught up with Abdon after he was released from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in central Phoenix. He and his wife, Jackie, are still upset about what happened to him.
Jackie tells 3TV, “It’s still something awful to be targeted. I can’t even imagine what he felt, people watching like he was some type of criminal.”
Abdon was told he did not have enough paperwork on him when he pulled into a weigh station to have his commercial truck checked. He provided his commercial driver’s license and a social security number but ended up handcuffed.
The politics of immigration are complicated. Immigration reform hasn’t always been a purely partisan issue. Some Republican lawmakers from Sun Belt states with sizable Latino constituencies support immigration reform while some Democratic representatives from Rust Belt states struggling with unemployment before the financial crisis have traditionally been unenthusiastic about pursuing reform. A lot of that changed in 2007 when President George W. Bush attempted to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill with bipartisan support. In an effort that seems now to have foreshadowed the tea party movement, grassroots conservatives upset that millions of immigrants would be given a pathway to citizenship mobilized a massive effort to pressure Republican lawmakers to vote against the wishes of the Republican president and Republican congressional leadership.
Senator John McCain of Arizona was a champion of the effort to pass immigration reform in 2007 and his work on the issue widened a rift between him and the conservative base of the Republican Party. Even as the GOP’s nominee for president, McCain struggled to mobilize volunteers. Now, he’s facing a tough primary race as he seeks re-election to the Senate this November. The challenger, former congressman and talk radio host J.D. Hayworth, is known as a fierce anti-immigration advocate and has made McCain’s support for comprehensive reform a major issue in the campaign. The strategy has worked, and Hayworth is within just a few points of McCain in the polls. I don’t think it’s too cynical to say that those numbers played a big part in McCain’s support for Arizona’s shockingly strict new law. That’s right: The man who once championed a holistic approach to border enforcement and a pathway to citizenship with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy now supports a law so extreme that even former Congressman and Presidential candidate Tom Tancredo, a man who has proudly taken on the role of most over-the-top and reactionary opponent of immigration in America thinks it goes too far.
When the guy who is to immigration reform what Strom Thurmond was to desegregation thinks strict anti-immigration law is too strict, you know it’s freaking way too strict!
The Arizona law has catapulted immigration back into the national conversation, especially as Democrats in Congress consider ways to revive the comprehensive reform effort that fell apart three years ago. But since the 2007 effort fell apart at the national level, Republicans politicians at the state level have found it an easy issue with which to engage conservative activists.
In Louisiana, which does not have a particularly significant illegal immigrant population, the last few legislative sessions have seen numerous efforts by Republican lawmakers to make life more difficult for people who fit the traditional stereotype of an illegal immigrant – having brown skin. Huck Upchuck has advocated against many of them. For instance, in 2008, there was a multi-pronged effort to require officers to demand citizenship papers from everyone they pull over, criminalize the transportation of illegal immigrants, and force landlords to obtain citizenship papers from renters.
This year, House Bill 1205, proposed by Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Gray, expands upon the failed efforts of 2008 criminalizing the assistance of illegal immigrants with transportation or housing. Puentes, which is working to integrate Latinos into New Orleans civic life, has called the bill a “grave danger to citizens:”
Since the vast majority of immigrant families include both documented and undocumented persons, these provisions criminalize normal familiar behaviors such as a lawful permanent resident taking an undocumented sibling to the doctor. A U.S. citizen mother driving a school carpool carrying another family’s undocumented child would also become illegal under HB 1205, provided that the mother acted “in reckless disregard” of that child’s immigration status. No definition of “reckless disregard” is offered in the bill. HB1205 criminalizes landlords, public transportation operators, and good Samaritans too. Louisiana already has the highest incarceration rate in the nation; increasing our prison population for such actions is neither humane nor financially sound.
The bill also promises to prohibit parish and municipal governments from establishing their own standards for enforcement of immigration laws. That would directly threaten the policy in New Orleans, which specifically instructs officers not to inquire about immigration status so that all residents – regardless of paperwork – can obtain basic police services to deal with things like violent crime and wage theft without fear of deportation.
As the immigration issue enflames the national debate, beware local politicians who try to cynically capitalize on people’s passions with bills like this. This bill, like Arizona’s, won’t stand up to constitutional challenges. It is proposed, not to deal with a major problem that Louisiana faces, but to fan the flames of resentment for short-term political gain.