Government & Politics

Arizona’s totalitarian immigration law not that different from proposals here

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.

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  • Ah, the old “Nazi” charge. Though an appropriate metaphor, it ain’t like we have to go that far overseas to find instances of authorities checking populations for their “papers.” There are more appropriate and close to home metaphors available before we get to the Third Reich, Soviet Russia, and Red China.

    We live in the South. We have hundreds of years of history with this issue. Before emancipation, a rather large southern demographic, free and slave, had to carry papers with them at all times that proved they had permission to be traveling, working, or doing whatever it was they were doing. The Fugitive Slave Law meant the North had to start checking for papers as well. Any member of a different demographic group could demand to be shown these papers at any time.

    Even after emancipation, free men and women of a certain demographic STILL had to carry papers at all times, lest they be arrested for “idleness” or “vagrancy” and “sold” by their incarcerators to southern farms, factories or mines.

    And, hell, we live in New Orleans. Placard is just another term for papers when reentering a city. What happens to folks who are unable to produce identification during a disaster?

    Today, after the policies of the war on drugs and the war on terror, the Arizona law literally removes the last vestiges of probable cause guaranteed Americans in the Constitution. We don’t even have to bring race into it, because anyone can be stopped and questioned at this point. But it is nothing, historically, that should surprise us. We’re just repeating an old song from an album of lessons we apparently did not learn.

  • Eli Ackerman

    That’s true. I thought it was appropriate given its overuse by fringe conservatives in reference to Democrats who want to expand healthcare access… and obviously so did SNL. But you’re right. There are too many examples, some of which involve sad chapters of the modern history of the United States.

  • Jmuskratt

    See R.S. 14:100.12; R.S 14:100.13

  • Gino

    @Cousin Pat.

    Good example. The only way for a law like this to be ultimately fair is to apply it to all. Think it sucks to get stopped driving through Metairie and realize you left you license in your other pants…. Imagine leaving your USA Identification Card. “Sorry sir, but I’m going to have to arrest you and turn you over to Immigration Services.” -But, but, but I’m WHITE! just won’t cut it then.

  • M.G.

    It’s important to question nationalism in articles like this as well. National borders and, more frequently now, fences unnaturally divide families, ecosystems, cultures and much more while accumulating and withholding capital and material goods behind those same borders.

    The basis for people migrating in world history has most often been the perception of improved economic opportunities, whether it be from Irish Potato Famines to the United States, North African droughts to Southern Europe or elites colonizing geographies for resources and political power (with the notable exception of people kidnapped and sold into slavery, as well as people fleeing religious/political persecution).

    Though people do naturally migrate in smaller numbers and over a long amount of time–across the Bering Strait then south through the Americas over thousands of years, for instance–the increase in migration in the last few centuries is largely due to an increase of unequal wealth between geographic areas sustained by stealing people, their labor and/or natural resources, not by free will. Self-determination becomes nearly impossible when life-sustaining land is stolen or sold away in treaties or laws (think of how half of Mexico was sold to the United States, making way for “The Frontier” for white folks to claim or be awarded indigenous land).

    The roots of the recent increase in migration from Central America and Mexico are often cited as coming from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, and I think rightfully so. When heavily governement subsidized U.S. crops, particularly corn, flooded Central American and Mexican markets, their lands’ own farmers could not compete with U.S. farmers because of the government intervention. While some Mexican corn growers and other farmers continued to harvest their land, many of the laborers in their fields were paid less or fired, leaving a large unemployed class now willing to take the risk to cross the border to the United States.

    More than “no one in authority should demand someone’s papers,” perhaps we should go deeper and wonder why the free movement of goods is never questioned, but the free movement of people is. Why “papers” that recognize the coincidence of you or I being born in one geographic area should register us legitimate in one place in the world and illegitimate in another.

    The answer, to me, can not be to apply a fair standard to laws regardless of race or ethnicity (which will not occur de facto in a racially privileged society) that are meant to increase an individual’s loyalty and decrease its sensitivity to the coercive nature of the state.

    A bit philosophical and long-term for the Lens perhaps, but the local and global ought to go hand in hand. Glad to see this subject taken up.

  • Right On, Sista Cousin Pat!
    And the lot of’yaz.
    I got a pocket-copy of our Constitution in the US Mail today from the ACLU.
    It says it right there in Amendment IV: “,but without probable cause.”
    The question of Citizenship is not addressed.
    Period. That statement is Clear on All Four Corners of the Page.