Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 347 | Junio 2010


Central America

Arizona and Its Cruel Discontents

SB 1070, signed into law in April in Arizona— a state the Latino population calls Nazizona— has a lot of support in the United States. It isn’t a sudden adverse event there; its forerunners date back a decade. The xenophobic winds sown from white colonization to recent immigrant hunts by the pitiless but popular sheriff of Maricopa are now reaping legal whirlwinds against immigrants.

José Luis Rocha

Once upon a time there was a superlative and pluperfect country. Not only was it spacious and well cared for, but everything in it was super-sized and boundless, from its hamburgers to its prisons. Its paranoia and persecution too. This country, made up of 50 not so united states, was terrified by its 12 million undocumented inhabitants and unmoved by the plight of its 4 million US children born of mixed marriages, where at least one parent was an illegal immigrant at risk of being deported at any moment.

“We have to get them out of here!”

In 1990 there were barely 3.5 million illegal immigrants in the United States. In less than 20 years they have more than tripled. Way too many. It’s as if all the inhabitants of Honduras and Nicaragua had dared push their way across the border. So the country had to be highly guarded. Fences, sensors and security guards were the medicine prescribed by the wise doctors of law against the expanding plague of illegal immigrants. The 3,555 who patrolled the southern border alone in 1992 were no longer enough, so by 2009 they had been beefed up to 17,415 alert and terrifying guards. Many sections of wall were also built, enough to cover over 500 kilometers of the borderline. To this barrier were added sensors and patrols that constantly dragged tires over the ground to erase old tracks so they could more easily locate the fresh footprints immigrants left on their clandestine journey. Over 1,100 kilometers of electric fence were installed and the number of beds in the detention centers tripled.

And so it was that the patrol on the southern border went from costing US$326.2 million in 1992 to US$ 2.7 billion last year. While that’s nearly half Nicaragua’s entire gross domestic product for 2005, it’s a mere trifle for such a populated and opulent country—less than US$10 per inhabitant. And the system has the advantage that it was designed with such artfulness and lavish ingenuity that the very same illegal immigrants were helping finance their repressors, whether they wanted to or not.

A little help from your
friendly neighborhood vigilantes

But recently, some petrified inhabitants, possessed by holy wrath, decided this still wasn’t enough and began to recruit volunteers from among their ranks to form paramilitary vigilance corps along the border strip. Thus were born the Minuteman, Ranch Rescue, American Patrol, Barnett Brothers and others. While the men go out hunting immigrants, their wives sell cookies and lemonade to raise funds for this abominable variant on fox hunting.

The story goes that in the early nineties a man named Jim Gilchrist, a US Marine veteran, decorated with the Purple Heart for injuries suffered during his service in an infantry unit in Vietnam in 1968-1969, requested a federal pension for his elderly mother. “They told me they couldn’t give her one because the US$200 million assigned for this purpose had already been spent on the many illegal immigrants who had arrived asking for help. What’s going on in this country? Isn’t America for the Americans?” Jim Gilchrist wondered. “Unhappily I saw it wasn’t, so I decided it was time to get anyone out of here who wasn’t one of us, legal or not.” In October 2004 Gilchrist founded the Minuteman Project. In April 2005 he posted 531 volunteers along the border.

His vigilante efforts won him praise from the muscular governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who declared to the rightwing radio station KFI-AM: “I think they’ve done a terrific job…. They’ve cut down the crossing of illegal immigrants a huge percentage. So it just shows that it works when you go and make an effort and when you work hard. It’s a doable thing.” Neither the patrols nor the paramilitaries managed to stop new waves of illegal immigrants coming in, but moved by the imperative need to evade them, the immigrants had to face other lethal risks trying to slip in through the merciless desert valleys. The number of deaths in the desert rose from 23 in 1994 to 827 in 2007 and 725 in 2008.

The Minutemen Civil Defense Corps has a Web page (www.borderfenceproject.com), where they ask for contributions to build a wall to cover the whole southern border: “All it takes is a $10 donation from each of 5,000,000 people, and we can completely fence-off the southern border! Donate here!” With 5 million patriots contributing $10, a bargain at twice the price, they’ll finish building the wall at a cost 180 times cheaper than it would cost the federal government. Volunteer labor and low cost materials will bring about a miracle.

Its Web site claims there are 30 million illegal immigrants, and that they create a public debt of over US$384 billion a year, commit 29% of the crimes, cause population growth, overburden the health and education systems and murder more than 9,000 US citizens every year, rewarding their innocent hosts with an annual 9/11. No point beating about the bush when you’re trying to stop such an evil horde. The wall of cyclone fencing they’re proposing will be generously endowed with movement sensors, electronic sensors and television cameras with microphones that will send images and sound to television monitors and a Web site where cyber Minutemen will be able to exercise a jealous vigilance from any corner of the planet in their air-conditioned housing, slouched in front of their Dell screen, drinking Budweiser and munching potato chips. In such comfort as that, even pre-pubescent girls and decrepit old men will be able to do their shift for this vigilante army.

The Minute Men’s followers send comments to the blog in which they propose, against the balkanization of the United States, an array of strategies that range from spiking the desert and patriotic ranchers’ lands with mines and bear traps all the way to executions, concentration camps, US$100,000 fines for each undocumented employee and the violent boycott of restaurants belonging to immigrants. But even these stratagems, attitudes and proposals fall too short for Arizona.

SB 1070, a license to arrest

Arizona has been the home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the scariest immigrant hunter of all, and of some of the most iniquitous anti-immigrant legislation for at least the last decade. Continuing in that tradition, on April 23 Arizona’s governor signed into law Senate Bill 1070, also known as Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, which places the state in the vanguard of the world’s xenophobia. This legislative package seeks to halt the entry of undocumented workers, as well as to identify, prosecute and deport people already illegally present in the United States.

SB 1070 establishes that migratory law enforcement officers may arrest a person without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe the person has committed any public offense that would qualify for deportation from the United States. Officials of the state of Arizona and its counties, cities and towns will be under no restrictions in sending, receiving or maintaining information on people’s migratory status to determine their eligibility for benefits, public services and licenses, residency verification, civil or criminal procedures, identity confirmation and, in the case of foreigners, assurance that they are registered in accordance with federal law. If they are not duly registered and are found on either private or public land in Arizona, they will be guilty of illegal entry and must be prosecuted.

So far that only makes it complicit with the most severe federal migratory legislation. But the Arizona senators wanted to go further, affecting immigrants’ daily lives by declaring it illegal for a person unlawfully present in the United States to knowingly apply for work, solicit work in a public place or perform work as an employee or independent contractor in this state. For legal purposes, “solicit” work means any verbal or nonverbal communication such as gestures or nodding that might signify to “a reasonable person” that this individual is looking to be hired.

The legal reaping of xenophobic winds

Law 1070 slaps a minimum fine of US$1,000 on anyone caught transporting undocumented immigrants or inducing or encouraging them to come to or live in Arizona, of course including family members. When the transgression involves 10 or more undocumented people, the fine will be no less than US$ 1,000 per person.

Employers are penalized with a probation period of between three and five years, depending on whether or not it can be presumed they were aware they were hiring undocumented workers. During that period the employer must submit a report to the county’s district attorney every four months in which they account for each new employee hired. The district attorney in turn must certify that the company is free of illegals. If found not to be, the court will order the corresponding entities to suspend all operating licenses awarded it.

In suspending those licenses the court will take into account the number of undocumented employees, any previous bad behavior on the part of the employer, the degree of damage resulting from the transgression, the good-faith efforts by the employer to comply with the requirements, the duration of the transgression, the role of executive-level employees in the transgression and any other factor the court might consider pertinent. The employer is considered to have acted in good faith if the employees’ labor permits were verified via the electronic verification program imposed by the Legal Arizona Workers Act, in force since December 31, 2007. That law, which came out of the office of State Senator Russell Pearce, who was also a key mover in promoting SB 1070, obliges employers to check potential employees’ eligibility, principally their migratory status, on the Internet and keep a record of the verification for three years or as long as employment lasts, whichever is longer. Any employer interested in receiving economic incentives from government bodies must register and participate in this verification program. Pearce’s legislation also establishes that every three months the Arizona attorney general must get a list of Arizona employers registered in the program from the Department of Homeland Security and post it on the office Web page.

And Law 1070 doesn’t stop here. Seeking both more authority and more flexibility, the bill establishes that the attorney general will make available a form for those who want to file charges against employers who hire illegal immigrants. But they immediately make clear that complainants needn’t write their social security number on the form for authentication by a notary public. And even if the charge isn’t submitted on the designated form, the attorney general or the district attorney can still investigate whether the employer really is hiring undocumented immigrants. In short, it doesn’t matter if the charges are anonymous or not on the correct form.

Arizona is reaping the anti-immigrant legislative whirlwinds of the xenophobic winds it has been sowing from Anglo-Saxon colonization right up to the recent immigrant hunts of Maricopa County’s Sheriff Arpaio.

The explosive Arizona cocktail:
One jigger of Hispanics to three of whites

Why Arizona? What’s so particular about Arizona that makes it pioneer a law that reinforces and exceeds the most repressive federal dispositions on undocumented migrants? There are anti-immigrant politicians in all states. Why did they dare to be more restrictive—and win—in Arizona? According to US Census Bureau estimates, more than 45 million Latinos were living in the United States in 2008—15% of the population. With 29.6% Latinos or Hispanics—a definition that refers to country of origin— Arizona is among the states where these migrants have a greater relative weight than the national average. California and Texas have 36% Latinos and New Mexico almost 45%, and their recent history is saturated with controversy on immigration. Let’s not forget California’s Proposition 187 of 1994, known as the SOS (Save our State) initiative, proposed by the Republicans and designed to exclude all illegal immigrants from public services. The sparks caused by that debate cost the Republicans dear: they didn’t win the government or even get a majority in the California Senate from then until Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected nine years later. In the end the proposition didn’t pass but the federal reaction wasn’t far behind: Reinforcement of border controls and 17 kilometers of wall from Tijuana to San Diego.

Let’s also remember the fight for bilingual education in California, intensely marked by the deadly dance of one step forward, two steps back. And let’s not leave aside the proposals to close the border, thrown at the media with irritating insistency by Schwarzenegger who was elected governor of California in 2003 with 48% of the votes and reelected in 2006 with 56%.

But all these states are a ways from the extremes Arizona had reached even before this law. Not only do its high percentage of Latinos and the well-known fact that the Arizona-Sonora desert is the main passage of illegal entry into the United States merit attention. Arizona is distinctive for another feature: 78% of its inhabitants racially classify themselves white, with no intermixing, a pocket of privileged citizens. There are much whiter states, such as Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho and Utah, where between 90% and 92% consider themselves pure white. But these states are way up in the cold north and unlikely to be sought out as residential enclaves by Latinos, as shown by the fact that they barely represent 11.5% of Utah’s population and 1.8% of North Dakota’s.

Arizona has a particularly explosive cocktail: a high percentage of Latinos (29.6%) together with a high percentage that identifies itself as “unsullied” white (78%). Usually in states with a higher share of Latinos than the 15% national average, fewer people than the 74.35% national average identify as white: 61% in California, for example, 67% in New York and 71% in Texas. Florida and Nevada are exceptions, but they’re far from having as many whites and Latinos as Arizona.

The reason these two percentages can total more than 100 is that white is a self-defined racial classification while Latino refers to country of origin. Juxtaposing them may seem methodologically confusing, but it is sociologically significant because many researchers have demonstrated that a high level of self-definition as white is a detonator of aversion to non-white foreigners.

In order to exceed 100%, the larger percentage obviously includes a number of inhabitants, surely Latinos included, who are in fact mixed. Perceiving themselves to be pure white, they seek every day to keep that perception alive, convinced of the advantages of white supremacy. They are the “black skin, white heart” of which Frantz Fanon spoke.

Will all these books have to be burned?

In a state where Caucasian supremacy seems to feel threatened, it’s not surprising that other legislative and law-enforcement dynamics that share the anti-immigrant spirit and letter of SB 1070 have preceded and succeeded it. It’s not only the bill pushed through by State Senator Pearce to ensure electronic verification prior to signing labor contracts. Tom Horne, superintendent of Arizona public schools and for many years an energetic knight in shining armor for SB 1070, continually complained that the Mexican-US study program in the Tucson school district was spreading the insidious rumor that Latinos are being oppressed by white people. With that kind of help, the shock wave of SB 1070 wasn’t a one-off event: three weeks after signing it into law, Jan Brewer, governor of the state Latinos have baptized Nazizona, also approved a law prohibiting classes from advocating ethnic solidarity, being designed primarily for students from one particular race or promoting resentment towards a certain ethnic group.

It thus seeks to decapitate the Tucson unified school district program, which includes studying the history and literature of African, Mexican and Native American groups in the United States and information on the influence of each ethnic group. For instance, the history module in the Mexican-US study program explores the role of Latinos in the Vietnam War and the literature focuses on Latin American authors.

The new law will make reading García Márquez a crime, although a more deserving candidate for the inquisition would be the subversive Mariano Azuela with his The Underdogs. Will The narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano return to obscurity? Is James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man too provocative? Does Oscar Zeta Acosta’s Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo cultivate ethnic solidarity? Are Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery a bad example and do they motivate racial hatred? All are books that can still be bought in almost any bookstore. For how much longer? Will W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk also be destined for the Arizona bonfire? Du Bois was the first African American Harvard graduate. In 1963 the eternally visionary US government refused him a passport to prevent him traveling to Ghana on Kwame Nkrumah’s invitation to direct the African Encyclopedia. Will Toni Morrison carry on teaching classes at Princeton while her novels aren’t allowed in Arizona high schools? Will the version of the decolonization wars, the civil and world wars and the wars in Vietnam and Korea written by the genially polemical and recently deceased Howard Zinn be banned?

A right that will be censored

Horne, who doesn’t bother to hide his aspirations for the state attorney general’s post, maintains that the cultural specialization program promotes ethnic chauvinism and racial resentment towards whites at the same time as it racially segregates pupils. Horne has gone so far as to prevent students from knowing that Dolores Huerta, the famous activist for Latino human rights, said in 2006 that “Republicans hate Latinos.”

The new measure doesn’t directly prevent the courses, but it does prevent expressions promoting either ethnic solidarity or resentment. Should this not halt the program’s continuation at one blow, the courses must be submitted to censors, which without beating about the bush violates the right to choose the cultural tradition in which the individual wants to be instructed and the principle that ethnic groups and minorities can cultivate their culture. The collective good of cultural diversity thrives on these rights.

Around 1,500 pupils in six high schools are enrolled in the Mexican-US studies program, but its curricular influence reaches down to junior high and elementary teaching levels. In a district such as Tucson, with a 56% Latin population, the influence could extend to nearly 31,000 Latino students and many of African descendence. Sean Arce, director of the program, confirms that students perform better at school if they can see people who look like them in the curriculum. “This program is highly attractive and it’s unfortunate that the state legislature could go so far in its censure,” said Arce.

Six United Nations experts declared that all people have the right to learn about their own cultural and linguistic heritage. From the opposite corner of the ring, Governor Brewer’s spokesperson said she “believes that public school students should be taught how to treat and value others as individuals and not how to resent and hate other races or classes.”

The Latino counter-attack

We are light years away from the time when immigrants bowed down and obeyed the law without talking back. Latinos and their defenders didn’t respond to these laws with their arms crossed and their mouths shut. Many rapidly got on the Internet and circulated harangues in favor of renewing the boycott against Kimberly Clark (the company behind the Scott, Kotex, Huggies and other bathroom brand names) for its corporate links with Republican Senator James Sensenbrenner, author of the notorious bill HR-4437 (the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005), more commonly known as the Sensenbrenner bill. There were early displays of solidarity from many famous people. Unequivocal declarations from singers: Shakira, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, Marco Antonio Muñiz, Danny Rivera and Paulina Rubio. Sharp comments from actors: Eva Longoria, Gael García Bernal and George López. Protests from intellectuals such as Carlos Fuentes and sports stars such as the Venezuelan Ozzie Guillén. The cinematographer Robert Rodríguez even improvised an allusive trailer.

Without calling into question the political convictions of these and other artists, one shouldn’t belittle the benefits they reap by staying on the good side of millions of Latinos, consumers of the cultural goods with whose production and sale they carve out fame and fortune. There will be no backpedaling on this issue. Other voices will be raised, for devotion either to Latinos or to Sir Lucre, that powerful knight that gives quality to the noble and to the beggar and makes the outsider his own.

The universities call it “erroneous”

In the very belly of Arizona, the communiqué quoted below stands out. Its text contains not only a brave denunciation but also a neat description of the consequences of the law’s application:

“We the undersigned, faculty, administrators and staff at the three state institutions of higher education in the state of Arizona, voice our strong opposition to SB 1070, the bill signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010.

“We question the constitutionality of this law and we categorically oppose the spirit and tone of the bill on humanitarian grounds, as well as the legal and financial consequences that will result from SB 1070's enforcement.

“When justifying her support for this bill, Governor Brewer asserted that the state of Arizona inherited the problem of illegal immigration through no fault of its own. We object to this view. The economy of Arizona has for many years been driven by cheap, exploitable, non-union and seasonal labor that has brought great profit to businesses and individuals who depend on undocumented workers. The Hispanic/Latino population of Arizona is "faultless" on this issue. SB 1070, nevertheless, by requiring Latinos and other Arizonans of color to carry documents to prove their immigration status will unfairly punish people of color by creating a second class of citizen. Latinos, and for that matter all Arizonans, will suffer the stigma and injustice of racial profiling, regardless of the Governor's promise to provide training to law enforcement agencies.

“We object, furthermore, to the manner in which SB 1070 criminalizes undocumented immigrants for soliciting work, for working, or for being in the state of Arizona. Although we acknowledge that there exists a criminal element that enters Arizona illegally, we also recognize that most of the hard-working men, women and children who cross the border feel obligated to seek survival and dignity for themselves and their families. Migrant workers risk their lives in crossing the deserts of Arizona, and, in contrast to the arguments commonly heard, make significant contri¬butions to the economy of the state.

“To reframe the Governor's language, we assert that these immigrants, who for reasons beyond their control are unable to support themselves and their families in Mexico and Central America, are completely free of blame for the situation that they have inherited. We declare that SB 1070 is wrong—it is wrong to criminalize people who are themselves victims of an inequitable and unsustainable economy.

“...Academic and professional organizations that were planning on hosting conferences, meetings and conventions here will now boycott the state and move their events elsewhere. SB 1070, then, will result in financial losses to the state. We support these boycotts as important instru¬ments with which to protest this unjust law.

We... call on our state to have compassion for human beings who find themselves in situations of hunger, poverty and privation.....

“Finally, we call for comprehensive immigration reform at the national level that is just for all people, that provides a pathway toward legalization for immigrants who are contributing to the progress of the society and economy of the United States, that enhances legal immigration in the years ahead, that allows for the reuniting of families of immigrants, and that protects migrants from the conditions that have led to so many deaths in the deserts of the southwestern United States.”

The mayor of Phoenix
speaks out against 1070

The boycott of Arizona as a venue for events has already begun, and with it a countdown for businesses and the state’s public coffers. A representative of the hotel and hostel association in Arizona told the media that in the first few days of May alone, 19 groups had cancelled their events and reservations. Democrat Phil Gordon, since 2004 mayor of Phoenix, Arizona’s capital and biggest city, told CNN that boycotts against Arizona in just the first ten days of May had cost the state over $150 million. The city councils of Boston, Oakland, Boulder, Los Angeles and San Francisco approved resolutions condemning Bill 1070 and urged their cities’ businessmen not to travel to Arizona. This sort of pressure will carry on strangling where it hurts most.

The voice of Mayor Gordon is the loudest that has opposed the law from the public sector’s multi-colored band. In an op-ed article published in The Washington Post the very day after Brewer signed the bill, Gordon blames Senator Pearce and Sheriff Arpaio for making Arizona appear before the rest of the world with a shameful law that classifies people according to the color of their skin and arrests them based on stereotypes and insufficient information: “Pearce and Arpaio—two men who are to Arizona law enforcement what George Wallace was to Alabama government—care less about capturing human smugglers and drug cartel gunmen than they do about capturing headlines. And in a state with a far-right legislature that is increasingly out of step with an increasingly moderate population, they’re also out of step with the rules of basic civility….

“Those who raise a concern about the legislation (perhaps noting that its ‘reasonable suspicion’ standard for police stops of those who look illegal is overly broad) have been met not with facts but with slurs against their character, patriotism and respect for the Constitution. We in Arizona do respect the Constitution, just as we respect the hard work and sacrifices of the many immigrants who have contributed to making our state a diverse, welcoming place. That respect has driven a series of massive, passionate counter-protests to this legislation, and it will continue to drive opposition from the center, the left and the moderate right...

“The Arizona I’ve known since moving here from Chicago as a boy is the birthplace of César Chávez; it’s a free-thinking, hospitable state capable of balancing great natural beauty and cultures of all sorts. This place we’ve heard about lately, the Arizona willing to risk economic boycotts and inter¬national ridicule in the pursuit of an ugly, discriminatory law? I don’t recognize it.

“But I do recognize those responsible for this humiliating moment. They are bitter, small-minded and full of hate, and they in no way speak for Arizona.”

Gordon called a meeting of the City Council to deny the state of Arizona local police collaboration on the basis of the new law’s unconstitutionality. In Pima County, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said he would forbid his officials to implement Law 1070, arguing that it leads to racial profiling.

President Obama labels it
“a threat to basic notions of fairness”

President Barack Obama said that “the recent efforts in Arizona... threaten to undermine the basic notions of fairness we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust in police and their communities that are so crucial to keeping us safe.” He commissioned a group lawyers from the Department of Justice to examine the law and determine its constitutionality. Attorney General Eric Holder said his administration would file its own challenge.

To all these protests was added an unusual boycott of the national census. Undocumented immigrants have good reason to remain in the shadows to which the US migratory legislation caste system consigns them, trying not to throw coals on the xenophobic fire with figures that prove their teeming presence. But on this occasion as a reaction against the Arizona law there is a wider determination to boycott the census to make the xenophobic politicians lose their seats. Five states—New York, California, Texas, Arizona and Florida—could lose congressional seats if the US census shows a significant drop in participation. Given that Latinos represent around half of the population increase registered since 2000 in these five states, their absence from the census would be catastrophic for its credibility and for politicians in these states. The greatest potential losers are California and New York, which would cede one or two seats in the House of Representatives to other states, while Texas could end up with three seats instead of four. This boycott aims at the heart of the system. Does it emerge from an embryonic awareness that those without papers are the extreme opposite of elites and that borders are currently the most effective and frequently used mechanism to maintain the inequalities in the global system?

The churches speak out as well

The religious sector has also issued strong declarations about the new legislation. The bishop of Salt Lake City, Utah, and president of the Migration Committee of the US Catholic Bishop’ Conference proposes a general amnesty to bring all undocumented immigrants out of the shadows: “Such reforms would take undocumented persons out of the enforcement equation, making it easier to secure our communities and border. It also would restore the rule of law in a manner that affirms both our national security interests and our nation’s long-term commitment to basic human rights, which are threatened by laws such as SB 1070.” His statement seeks a solution based on a commitment that should please both sides in the fundamental controversy: the conflict between national sovereignty with its corollary of border control, national security, etc. and the universality of human rights.

In Nogales, the Jesuit priest Donald Bahlinger, who works on the Kino Border initiative with one foot in Mexico and the other in the United States, reported that the number of deportables in the Nogales migrant detention center increases every day and that Arizona’s new law will encourage racial profiling and make communities less safe because people will be ever less inclined to report criminal activity to local police who won’t be perceived as friends given that they will be dedicated to catching migrants.

The California Provincial of the US Society of Jesus, in communion with the US Catholic Bishops’ Conference, declared the Jesuits’ solidarity with migrants and their opposition to Law 1070, arguing that its application will unnecessarily divide peaceful communities along racial lines and cultural suspicions, given that US citizens and permanent residents of Hispanic descent will probably be arrested.

The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders filed a first lawsuit with a Phoenix federal court in an attempt to stop the law’s application. The suit argues that federal legislation takes precedence over state regulation of national borders and that the Arizona law violates the right to due process, allowing suspected undocumented migrants to be detained before being sentenced.

Even the United Nations had something to say

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund are also planning lawsuits and calling for support of US Attorney General Eric Holder. These groups presented the documentation required to hold a plebiscite that could freeze the law if they can gather over 76,000 signatures before the law goes into effect in August 2010. In that case, the law’s application would be postponed until a second round of voting, which for reasons related to the electoral calendar could end up not taking place until 2012. These legal initiatives were backed by thousands in the streets of Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and New York.

The law even sparked comments from normally laconic and aseptic United Nations officials, who avoid conflictive statements and use telescopic sights to glimpse the world’s pain from their palatial offices in Geneva and New York and from other branches dispersed around the globe. In a press release, a group of UN rights experts spoke of “potentially discriminatory treatment,” commenting that “States are required to respect and ensure the human rights of all persons subject to their jurisdiction, without discrimination” and that “relevant international standards require that detention be used only as an exceptional measure, justified, narrowly tailored and proportional in each individual case, and that it be subject to judicial review.” Even though they don’t question states’ prerogatives for migratory control and the protection of their borders, they insist that “these actions must be taken in accordance with fundamental principles of nondiscrimination and humane treatment.”

A frank and direct repudiation of the law is the least that the UN owes migrants. Although the word “repudiate” does not figure in its icy official vocabulary, pinpointing that detention must only be used as an exceptional measure and should be justified and submitted to judicial review left no room for doubt over its position.

Novel contradictions
among government levels

The convergence point between the declarations of critics who lament it and proponents others who brazenly brag about it is that this is the toughest state law against immigrants ever. Analyzed from a historical perspective, these political wrestling matches, while sounding hopeful, have not always benefited immigrants.

The successive US migratory legislation has usually given with one hand and taken away with the other, such as amnesty but with greater controls. It’s a standard middle-ground position maintained by moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats. Thus even the local politicians most fiercely opposed to Law 1070 will continue working with Washington to ensure control along the Arizona border, where—oh glorious success!—half a million undocumented migrants were caught in 2009. Proclaiming the plausible objective of stopping criminals who want to enter the United States, they will manage to make the entry funnel ever narrower and more plagued by danger. So, nothing new to report there.

The originality of this episode lies in the insoluble tension among the different government levels. The heterogeneity of the state apparatus is slipping to such an extreme that it could be interpreted as symptomatic of the weakness of the Nation-State as a political unit capable of administering, governing and legislating migratory movements in an orderly, autonomous, sovereign and self-sufficient way.

One sheriff, one mayor, the head of one public education program and one attorney general are presenting a fiery face to another sheriff, one governor, one public school superinten¬dent and a Republican majority in the Arizona Senate—SB 1070 was passed with the votes of 16 of the 17 Republican senators and none of the 12 Democrats. What we could term an intermediate power—the power of the Arizona Senate and government—is being questioned by a transnational power (the United Nations), challenged by a federal power (the US Attorney General’s Office) and disrespected by local powers (the mayor of Phoenix and the sheriff of Pima). The supranational and local powers appear to be conspiring to limit the xenophobic efforts that are gaining ground only in an intermediate sphere. Could this be another chapter in the denationalizing of power?

Concentric circles of rejection
with very limited overlaps

The strength of the opposition to the law is its pluralism. Academics, state officials, politicians, human rights activists, notable representatives from religious institutions and migrants are standing shoulder to shoulder to bring down a piece of legislation that none of them can stomach. The weakness of this multi-colored group is that each of its segments has problems with the law for differing reasons. If we drew a diagram charting the arguments for opposing the law by segment, the most representative form would be a series of concentric circles, each containing a series of arguments as well as the arguments from the smaller circles. Unfortunately, the larger the circle, the fewer and less powerful its adherents.

The core circle represents the Federal level, which is challenging the law’s unconstitutionality and fostering of racial profiling. The moderate Republicans and middle-of-the-road Democrats go that far and no farther. The next level is that of local politicians like the mayor of Phoenix, who add concern for Arizona’s reputation and the effects of an economic boycott, but don’t oppose migratory control. At this level there are also challenges against the sloppiness of the idea of “reasonable suspicion” and concern about community security, which would be left in a precarious situation by a bad relationship between the police force and the migrants. The most open-minded liberal Democrats sign onto these declarations, but stop there.

The academics repeat all these reasons. Their declaration is quite eclectic, perhaps because the group of writers was very heterogeneous or the public they are addressing is and a declaration is a political instrument, not a sociological analysis. The academics and other university workers add emphasis on the economic and cultural contribution immigrants make and on their innocence with respect to the sequence of historical events that led them to migrate to the United States. The added value of their declarations consists of appealing to economic and cultural globalization. An essential pivot of their brave message is to recognize that migrants have contributed to the Arizona economy and must be treated accordingly.

The ecclesiasts dabble in all of the previous circles and add humanitarianism. In other words, they appeal to the universality of human rights and to Christian charity, while the academics stress reciprocity, the dynamic of benefits and counter-benefits in an exchange that will be socially just and balanced when both parties equally contribute and recognize their contributions. The men and women of the grassroots church talk about humanitarianism, without desiring or asking for a counter-benefit: charity’s free.

And finally, there are the immigrant and immigrants’ rights organizations. They go a step further, appealing to the justice owed the dis¬possessed.

The problem with this configuration of concentric circles and levels is that the nucleus of coincidences is evidently minimal. It would take just a slight change in scenario and points under discussion for this polymorphous bloc to dissolve. To the extent that events veer the discussion off toward other issues—the border wall, the granting of visas, the legitimacy and danger of the controls, the argument that the classification is not racial but migratory—the circles will start splitting away, starting with the smallest circle, gradually increasing in size until not a jot of the apparently monolithic opposition to Law 1070 will remain. The simple table above shows a summary of some of the positions of those groups that are key to the present and future of US migratory legislation. The common points and those of dissension reveal the possibilities of and limits to achieving a comprehensive migratory reform, as well as the carrot-and-stick quality it would have were it to happen.

This isn’t the real Arizona?

One demonstration of how debatable some of the seemingly most “pro-immigrant” statements can be is provided by Mayor Gordon’s article. His brave frontal attack on public sector colleagues was laced with a justification of xenophobic attitudes: “We have become ground zero in the battle over illegal immigration because of years of lapsed federal border security.” Ergo: with greater controls, Law 1070 could be shelved.

Phoenix’s mayor tries to present the law as a sudden misfortune, the work of a minority group of xenophobic hotheads who do not in the slightest represent the position of Arizona’s hospitable inhabitants. His assertions are laudable and encouraging, but lack foundation. Arizona is a red state. It has only been carried by a Democratic presidential candidate once since 1948 and in 2008, Arizona Republican nominee John McCain, a US Senator since 1986, won his home state with an 8.5% margin of victory over Barack Obama. While only three of its eight congressional representatives are Republican, both of its US Senators are. Senator McCain, under tremendous pressure from a more rightwing candidate with a real shot in this year’s Senate elections, came out in favor of 1070 hours before it was passed.

More to the point, Arizona’s voters are responsible for the Republican majority that pushed SB 1070 though the state Senate. And they weren’t ambushed. Some of those senators have been promoting laws of this kind for years and have been reelected again and again precisely because enough voters saw their programmatic proposals as attractive. Furthermore, Law 1070 is not the by-product of a fit of rage. It was thoroughly discussed. In fact it was seen as such a crowd-pleaser that the senators followed it with the legislation on ethnic education. Another fit of rage?

The inheritance of Sheriff Arpaio

The most significant embodiment of Law 1070’s precepts is Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, the most populous in the state of Arizona. Arpaio has reaped national and even international fame as the most feared immigrant hunter in the West, and in fact in the country as a whole. With the air of someone with a license to kill, he has the cowboy hat, sidelong look and bowlegged gait of John Wayne. Is he an exceptional phenomenon? Does he only represent his own position? Is he disagreeable to the people of Arizona? I don’t think anybody even half informed could answer yes to any of these questions in good conscience.

Arpaio, too, is an elected official, after all. He was first elected sheriff in 1992 and has been reelected ever since. Holding down an elected post for almost 18 years doesn’t happen to unpopular politicians. In November 2008, Arpaio swept his fifth term with 55% of the votes.

Arpaio shouldn’t be that popular. He gets in fights with attorney generals and other state officials. He’s been accused by Amnesty International and the ACLU of repeated violations of immigrants’ human rights. Some detainees have died in his cells in unexplained circumstances. No other sheriff in the United States has faced as many lawsuits as Arpaio. But he’s not without virtues and grace in the eyes of Maricopa voters: in line with demand he builds cheap and easily dismountable or expandable prisons using tents, spends the modest sum of $0.30 for each meal for the prisoners, dresses them in pink uniforms to demolish their machismo and forces them to clean the streets and parks in chains and closely guarded.

With his chain gangs and his low-budget prisons, Arpaio saves taxpayers a great deal of money and attracts Federal funds. Arpaio built “Tent City,” the biggest penal complex in the world, and on February 4, 2009, made 220 undocumented immigrants march, chained and handcuffed, from the Durango jail through the streets of Phoenix to the new penal citadel, where they would be more secure, surrounded by electric fencing. Undocumented immigrants are the majority of the inmates there.

It has been lawful to fill prisons with immigrants since 2006, when the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) started loading its prisons started with undocumented workers for no other crime than illegal entry. The ICE ignores its own statutes, which establish a 75% quota of criminal prisoners.

In February 2009, as a reward for Arpaio’s feats against the ferocious undocumented immigrants and his no less resounding media coups, the state returned $1.6 million that had been cut from his annual budget the previous year. This money will be pumped into Latino barrio roundups, the border patrol and Tent City.

Roundups applauded
by frightened whites

Why did Maricopa give and keep giving a badge to the most noted immigrant hunter? With 61% of Arizona’s popula¬tion, Maricopa is the most populated county in the state and takes to the extreme the explosive Latino-white cocktail, with 30.3% Latinos and 80.45% who identify as white. The white majority of Maricopa county feels panic in the face of the growing Latino minority. In Arizona the xenophobia train departs from Maricopa and arrives in Maricopa. The result is that implementation of Law 1070 will be exemplary there.

With Law 1070 fresh out of the senatorial oven, Sheriff Arpaio launched a roundup on April 29. He made sure it would focus on areas of high criminality, in search of immigrant traffickers. All his detractors and defenders know what that means: Latino barrios. It was Arpaio’s fifteenth roundup since the beginning of 2008. Previously he was backed up by SB 1372 on Human Trafficking Violation, also known as the “anti-coyote bill,” which went into force in August 2005. Now he’s also backed up by Law 1070. The anti-coyote bill allows local authorities to press charges against those who traffic in undocumented immigrants, who can be fined $250,000 and sentenced to between six months and two-and-a-half years in prison. Law 1070 gave a qualitative leap forward, allowing the detention of undocumented immigrants looking for work and those who hire, transport or lodge them.

Arizona is still the native land of César Chávez, but in today’s world it’s more famous as the stage for Arpaio’s roundups, Tent city and Law 1070. Voices of protest are raised, but Pearce, Arpaio and Brewer are well dug in and get support from those with a voice and a vote. Undocumented immigrants, temporary workers and even non-citizen permanent residents can’t vote. The people who can are the fearful whites, whose whiteness became pallid.

The dangers facing Central Americans

Central Americans won’t be massively affected by Law 1070. According to the US Census, there are 38,109 Central Americans living in Arizona: 14,221 Guatemalans, 11,074 Salvadorans, 4,627 Hondurans, 2,858 Panamanians, 2,107 Costa Ricans and 1,987 Nicaraguans, plus “others.” But there are 1,681,834 Mexicans. Central Americans have a greater presence in other parts of the United States, such as the 129,424 Nicaraguans in Florida and the 553,549 Salvadorans in California, which is also where 317,766 of the 915,743 Guatemalans in the US live. A legislative bombshell such as the one in Arizona would be devastating for Central Americans if applied in Florida or California.

But there are still two dangers, one immediate and one on the horizon. The immediate threat is that the progressive persecution in Maricopa will be a tragedy for many Central American families. Official data from the US census show 29,648 Central American families living in that county, representing 78% of the total in the state of Arizona. The more distant but possible threat is that Bill 1070 could have a pernicious demonstration effect and other states could imitate it.

There are storm clouds in the migration sky. On May 5, a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Daryl Metcalfe, introduced HB 2479, a bill of the same substance and mold as Arizona’s SB 1070. Edward Rendell, the current governor of Pennsylvania, said he would veto it if it were approved. Politicians in Ohio, Texas, Missouri and Utah have announced plans to draw up similar legislation, as has already happened in Louisiana. And candidates for governor in Iowa and Colorado are fishing for votes with promises to support laws that penalize undocumented immigrants. Arizona has tapped into and is leading a trend.

Which is “better”: Fair or hairless?

The domino effect of Law 1070 is starting to be felt. It may not get very far in this chapter of history, but its roots—the cult of whiteness as an axis of identity and mark of superiority—reach deep down, entangling good and bad consciences, Republicans and Democrats, extremists and moderates.

Politicians will continue exploiting the quarry of petrified whiteness in search of votes until it is relativized and ridiculed, as Arnold J. Toynbee did in his first volume of A Study of History: “The physical characteristic most commonly emphasized by Western advocates of racial theories is color.... It is curious to notice that, whereas the racial propagandists of our own civilization insist on fair skins as the mark of superiority, exalting Europeans over other races and Nordics over other Europeans, the Japanese employ a different physical test. It so happens that the bodies of Japanese are remarkably free from hair, and they have as their neighbors in their northern island a primitive community of quite a different type, a physical type not unlike that of the average European, called the hairy Ainu. Very naturally, therefore, the Japanese associate hairlessness with spiritual superiority, and, though their claim may be as baseless as our plea for the superiority of fair skins, it is superficially more plausible, for the hairless man is certainly, quâ hairlessness, somewhat farther removed from his cousin, the ape.”

José Luis Rocha is a researcher for the Jesuit Service for Migrants of Central America (SJM) and a member of the envío editorial council.

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