Immigration: No Easy Answers
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari)
Admittedly, seeing the fairness and justness of Arizona's draconian new law, SB1070, isn't easy. Police officers being fallible humans like the rest of us, it will inevitably lead to racial profiling in spite of Gov. Jan Brewer's sickeningly pious assurances that it will not be tolerated. To right wing, anti-immigrant activists, it's not even that controversial but an upholding of three federal laws: US Code Title 8, 1304, US Code Title 8 Section 1324 and US Code Title 8 Section 1324a, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by FDR, a liberal Democratic president, 70 years ago.
But one must also consider the meanspiritedness that pushed such a law into being and take into account another signed a week later by Jan Brewer that pretty much outlawed all multicultural studies in Arizona's schools. One must also factor in Jan Brewer being up for election and her obvious desire to suck up to Arizona's powerful conservative voting base, the corrupt, multimillion taxpayer dollar cottage industry that's sprung up around the Bush-era Operation Streamline.
We'd also be remiss as thinking, compassionate people if we ignored the cynicism of SB1070 being used as a deterrent against legal US citizens of Hispanic descent who may want to vote for their favorite Democratic candidates.
And, finally, one must also acknowledge that there are many Arizona police officers who are against SB1070, including the Police Chief of Phoenix. Here's a sampling of what law enforcement is saying in opposition to SB1070:
"Before the signing of this bill, citizens would wave at me. Now they don't even want to make eye contact." - David Salgado, a 19-year Phoenix police veteran
"Crime is not based upon skin color, it's based upon conduct." - Mark Spencer, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association
"When you get a law that leads a state down this path, where the enforcement is targeted to a particular segment of the population, it's very difficult not to profile." - Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris
"If they're not committing a crime here, frankly, I'm not sure how it enhances public safety to target those people for removal." - Police Chief Thomas Manger of Montgomery County, Md.
The last word on the subject seems to be from Jack McDevitt, associate dean of criminal justice at Northeastern University, who says, "No training you give police officers is going to change all of the officer's behavior. Unfortunately, the shortcut will be: 'What does this person look like? What kind of accent does he have? And what kind of car is he driving?'"
Here's the problem: SB 1070 is, indeed, a reaffirmation of Federal Law US Code Title 8, 1304, US Code Title 8 Section 1324 and US Code Title 8 Section 1324a. The difference is, crossing into Arizona illegally will be an infraction of Arizona law, which smacks of the usurpation of federal authority. Many right wing activists will consider this a triumph of states' rights and those of us in the reality-based community all know what "states' rights" really means.
Another wrinkle in this new law, one that's not received as much notice, is that any Arizona citizen can sue a state law enforcement agency and even individual law enforcement officers if they have a reasonable suspicion they're not upholding the immigration law.
It's not much of a stretch to see the potential for abuse of this law if cops under the gun from the citizens who pay their salaries wish to avoid getting sued for dereliction of duty.
It's also very easy to at least strongly suspect that these Mexican immigrants who are dying by the hundreds trying to cross 20-60 miles of desert are being used as political and financial fodder. Truthout's Dahr Jamail recently published a sobering and tragic story of these people who are crossing over onto US soil for economic or familial reasons.
Jamail paints a picture of an Arizona courtroom in which six dozen or more captured immigrants face the same judge, Tom Ferraro, every day five days a week for some fast food simulacrum of justice, those who were snared in the Operation Streamline net. It's the embodiment of McJustice, the catch and release of an endless stream of poor dark people off whose backs millions are made in an endlessly corrupt system involving the underreported Wackenhut, which provides the transportation of these prisoners, public "defenders" who make $6,000-$12,000 a day each to complete the illusion of legal representation, $20-$22 million a month (or a conservative estimate of almost a quarter of a billion a year) in more taxpayer dollars just to keep the courthouse running and finally the private prison firm CCA, whose Eloy detention facility also vacuums up $9-11 million each month (or roughly $120,000,000 more a year).
Obviously, without SB1070, a lot of people would stand to lose their jobs and many private corporations and part of Arizona's criminal justice system would stand to lose a lot of money. With SB1070, they stand to make a lot more at taxpayer expense. What is now about 1000-1500 captured illegals facing "justice" per diem could easily turn into 2000-3000 a day or more.
With that kind of federal money flowing into Arizona's coffers, one's argument of Mexican workers pumping their minimum wage or sub minimum wage earnings into the state economy doesn't cut as much ice as it used to.
Meanwhile, these people are dying in our back yards. Border patrol agents are physically abusing them. And for every story of a BP agent offering medical assistance, there's at least one more to counter, such as the horrific story of a mother who was shackled by the Border Patrol even during childbirth. Some of the 85 corpses that have been found since October last year in the Arizona desert are so badly decomposed and dessicated that determining the gender much less the identity is all but impossible.
The anti-immigrant bias is so potent that even people who have tried to help these illegals by leaving out food and water for them have also been arrested and charged for their humanitarian acts.
But the bottom line is that there are no easy answers to the immigration issue. While it's true that crime in Phoenix has actually steadily gone down since the immigration wave began with NAFTA, the unavoidable fact is that they are here in violation of federal law regardless of the purity of their motives and their pitiful plights.
The Bush administration, in a rare show of bipartisanship, only alienated liberals and conservatives with its own compromised immigration bill that included a guest worker program that would streamline the path to citizenship for working Mexicans and South Americans. And with the second bailout, health care reform, the expansion of the war in Afghanistan and other huge issues facing the new administration, it's only fair to give President Obama a brief grace period until he can get a handle on this latest "crisis."
But to call a wave of indigent and desperate people looking for work and not handouts a "crisis" is very misleading. By and large, these people do not break the law and in fact avoid law enforcement whenever possible. They shun medical care because of their illegal status and they do put their meager earnings back into the national economy. The only crisis regarding immigration is the subhuman way these people are treated and the Nazi-era images inspired by right wing zealots who are bent on making Mexicans the new Jewish scapegoats in the even more real economic crisis facing us as a nation.