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Arizona’s SB 1070 isn’t racist... is it?

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Arizona’s SB 1070 isn’t racist... is it?

  • Marchers demonstrate against Arizona's SB 1070.
    xomiele/FlickrMarchers demonstrate against Arizona's SB 1070.

The marching song of the backers of Arizona’s new immigration law SB 1070 includes an oft-repeated verse that this law has nothing to do with race

Many times I’ve heard outraged supporters tell me that the law’s opponents use a broad brush to paint all of the supporters as racists and that there is absolutely no justification for this. During my monitoring of social media sites such as Facebook, I found there is even a page entitled, “It's not racism stupid! You are here ILLEGALLY!” where one can find such comments as, “I will have a party when the whole country has this law since I'm not in AZ. But we have to close the front door or else the roaches keep coming in.”

There are many discussions about how illegal immigration impacts us and the negative perceptions of this subject are often used as the sole reasons for support of SB 1070. Somehow the fact that this law also impacts perfectly legal citizens of a certain racial background isn’t taken into account during these discussions . . . or if it is, it’s vehemently denied. Anyone who believes that SB 1070 can be carried out without racially profiling citizens who happen to look “illegal” has not been paying attention to how law enforcement has operated for generations and continues to operate today, nor do they fully understand the law as it is written.

An attempt to show that this law would be enforced in a race-neutral manner was recently released in the form of the new training guidelines for Arizona law enforcement agencies that was mandated by Gov. Jan Brewer after she signed SB 1070 into law. These guidelines, “Implementation of the 2010 Arizona Immigration Laws Statutory Provisions for Peace Officers Arizona POST - June 2010”lists ways of achieving “reasonable suspicion.”

Upon reading these guidelines, I find that several are arguably attributable to customary practices of poorer Latinos, such as driving heavily laden vehicles or “riding in tandem” or vague criteria like “dress” and “demeanor.” Many first-generation Latinos in Arizona fit the bill of not communicating well in English, which is still their second language. Some of the criteria could be assigned to people with disabilities such as mentally challenged or ill individuals – “Inability to provide his or her residential address,” “providing inconsistent or illogical information” or “Claim of not knowing others in same vehicle or at same location.”

Even though it is stressed, “Officers shall not consider race or color in determining reasonable suspicion that a person is unlawfully present in the United States. If an officer does not have reasonable suspicion without reliance on race or color, then reasonable suspicion does not exist,” this hardly removes the actuality that people naturally identify other people based on how they look and what their ethnic background appears to be, no matter how much they’ve been instructed to do otherwise. If anything, critics may look upon these guidelines as a convenient list to fall back on as plausible excuses to be presented for what is essentially a racial profiling incident.

Recent AZDPS data on numbers of traffic stops and vehicle searches in Arizona shows that simply being Hispanic carries a more than two times greater risk of being searched during a traffic stop. So a disparity exists already on how Latinos are treated by law enforcement. It is entirely reasonable to conclude that this can only be made worse by tasking officers with actively searching out illegal aliens as part of their duties. And it’s not like they have a choice in the matter. Failure to carry out federal immigration laws to their fullest extent will subject law enforcement agencies to citizen lawsuits, as allowed under SB 1070.

Even if someone refuses to believe any of the above factors about how this law targets both citizens and undocumented persons alike, perhaps a look at the people who wrote and sponsored SB 1070 as well as those who enforce it will provide some clues of its racial motivations.

Nobody wants to be labeled a racist, unless of course they are J.T. Ready, the self-proclaimed hater of all non-white people, who also happens to be a huge supporter of SB 1070. Ready honestly equates people of color as the “enemy” and has proudly proclaimed in a video, J.T. Ready Speaks on White Activism circulated by the hate group White Now, “This is a war, this is a real war.”

It appears that Ready is willing to back up this rhetoric. He and his band of like-minded racists have done a much publicized stint in the desert corridors where immigrants travel and he has claimed, “We have guys that are going to be doing some covert stuff and we have some snipers coming out." Videos of one such event have shown Ready and his cadres to be heavily armed with assault rifles and other weaponry.

By now many of us have seen the photograph from a Phoenix anti- immigration rally in 2009 of J.T. Ready snuggling up to State Sen. Russell Pearce, the sponsor of SB 1070, both of them smiling broadly for the camera. Or we’ve watched the film clips of J.T. gushing over Pearce from the rally podium, while Pearce beams back. Gesturing to his good buddy the Senator, Ready tells the crowd, “Great people like Russell Pearce are statesmen!”

It was only after these videos and photographs became public that Pearce hastily backpedaled and pretended he had no idea that Ready frequently dons his black uniform, jackboots and swastikas to march in National Socialist rallies.

But another black eye on the premise that Pearce is a stranger to racism is the fact that the senator had widely circulated an email to his supporters in 2006 containing an article that was cut and pasted from the neo-Nazi National Alliance website, entitled "Who Rules America." The article “criticized black and white intermixing and Jewsin the media for promoting multiculturalism and racial equality, for depicting "any racially conscious White Person" as a bigot, and for presenting the Holocaust as fact.” Pearce later claimed he hadn’t read this article before sending to more than 100 people.

Of course J.T. Ready is an extremist and the vast majority of Americans are not. But the fact that Russell Pearce, the law’s sponsor and champion has obvious ties to extremists brings with it a very bad odor and poses questions about what exactly powers the real motivations behind SB 1070.

As for who drafted this law, we have yet more disturbing issues to contend with. As Rachael Maddow revealed during her broadcast on the Racist Roots of Arizona Law, the organization FAIR, an anti-immigrant group that was founded by known racist John Tanton, was the entity responsible for drafting SB 1070 through their lawyer, Kris Kobach. FAIR is currently populated with people who have racist and eugenicist ideals and is identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. So yet again, we have more racist ties to this supposedly non-racist law.

But let’s put all this aside for a moment. Suppose we somehow can convince ourselves that even if this law was written by Goebbels himself and presented to the Arizona legislature by Hitler, does this necessarily make it racist? Let’s explore instead the real effects of this law in Arizona. To carry this analogy further, we need to look at the person who some view as the Heinrich Himmler of Arizona law enforcement.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has garnered much fame and notoriety throughout the nation for his tough stance on crime with tent cities in the Arizona desert, chain gangs, and emasculating pink underwear. The emails circulated praising him were legion and every crime-hating person loved him, including the residents of his county who have re-elected him repeatedly. When Arpaio first started out he paid little attention to illegal immigrants, choosing instead to pursue people who were committing crimes such as murder and robbery. Then his focus shifted and he decided to become his very own illegal immigration enforcer.

To accomplish this goal he first worked under the 287g agreement with ICE and when this was revoked because of his suspected racial profiling abuses he simply fell back on a new Arizona law that redefined human smuggling by charging illegal aliens with conspiracy to smuggle themselves into the country.

As he stated at that time, “I'm not going to turn these people over to federal authorities so they can have a free ride back to Mexico. I'll give them a free ride to my jail." In essence, Arpaio decided to enforce SB 1070 long before it was ever written or enacted into law. Soon his deputies were conducting sweeps of poor Hispanic neighborhoods, often arresting both the undocumented and citizens alike while also subjecting many citizens to harassing intrusive demands for proof of their legal residency. This has only happened in areas that are predominantly Latino, or at places of business that hired Hispanics. Not a single sweep has happened in the wealthier, largely white Scottsdale neighborhoods, where outrage at such methods would have been heard very loudly in short order.

Again, the supporters may argue, is this necessarily racist? Since most illegal aliens originate from south of our borders why not conduct sweeps of areas where Latinos live? Despite the claims of unreasonable search and seizure or cries that this violates the equal protections guaranteed under our Constitution doesn’t the end goal of ridding us of “illegals” justify the means? After all, we have swarms of these people coming here - infiltrating our cities, our neighborhoods and our culture.

This “ends justify the means” argument poses many more interesting questions. Why is it OK to single out the Latino population for harassment because people who look like them could be undocumented? Why don’t we target everyone including white, African American and Asian people so as to gather up the non-Hispanics that compose 19 percent of the illegal immigrant population in the U.S., or more than 2 million people? This is the essence of racial profiling and even if the supporters claim it won’t happen with SB 1070, the fact remains that it already does happen and will continue to happen simply because there is no way to enforce a law that targets people of Latino heritage without profiling all Latinos.

In the end I find myself wondering what truly motivates people who support this law. Why are we afraid of brown-skinned people whom we mostly don’t even notice as they landscape our yards, clean motel rooms, wash dishes in our restaurants or work in our fields? How is it that we’ve developed language that everyday Americans use freely, such as “illegals” “wetbacks”, “anchor babies”, or even “roaches” that serves no purpose other than to dehumanize? And why do the recent Census reports indicating that whites will be the minority in just a few decades, coupled with the election of our first African American president cause many of this law’s supporters to feel something akin to fear, and perhaps even its close cousin, hatred?

So I must say to the SB 1070 supporters, your argument that this law is not racist is neither supported by the evidence nor by any person of conscience who honestly looks at its motivating factors and consequences. Until the supporters acknowledge this, they will be on the side of history occupied by the likes of J.T. Ready or the KKK. If that’s the side you choose to be on then you really have no business telling me that race isn’t a factor here.

Amy is an Arizona resident whose passion about human rights has evolved into activism since the passage of SB 1070. She’s originally from Maine, where she was part of the tourism industry. She now restores homes in Southern Arizona, and she and her husband are living in her latest project in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains. She is working on a memoir of her early life on an isolated Maine island.

Amy is an Arizona resident whose passion about human rights has evolved into activism since the passage of SB 1070. She’s originally from Maine, where she was part of the tourism industry for over 20 years. Her writings have appeared in the Tucson Sentinel, Truthout, and Open Salon. Her full-time work is as a volunteer and clinic director at a nonprofit free clinic she co-founded in downtown Phoenix.

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