Thursday, April 29, 2010

Immigrants and Arizona law

by Darlene Sylva, Sacramento
I just got off the phone with my youngest sister, who lives in Phoenix. She is upset and nervous.
Arizona's new immigration law has her asking me, her sister, the attorney, does she have to carry a certified copy of her birth certificate? How does she prove she's a citizen?
Under the new law, set to go into effect within a few months, any law enforcement officer may, based upon a "reasonable suspicion" ask her to prove her legal status. The law makes it illegal to racial profile, but the only reason to ask my sister would be because she just looks illegal, in other words, existing while brown.
Has the heat finally taken its toll on a majority of the voters in Arizona? Are they so lost in their insecurities they don't see the harm they do to fellow Americans?
Why is it that every time there is a downturn in the economy, those of us born brown become the focus of Anglo insecurities?
This time, without even a hint of shame, Arizonans, mostly immigrants from frigid climes, support action to implement their bigotry in the name of protecting our borders.

They speak about crime, homeland security, drug cartels, terrorists and a burning desire to give meaning to immigration laws, but all of these issues are simply a way of rationalizing and giving public voice to their ugly side; that little inner voice that needs to feel superior, to find a scapegoat for the devastation in our economy, for the insecurities they feel about their futures within a rapidly changing demographic. Without shame, they have portrayed themselves as heartfelt patriots while throwing the security and rights of Hispanic Americans not just to the back of the bus but under it.
My family has lived in Arizona since before statehood, before it was a territory, and my mother's family goes back to the Native Americans who have lived in the Tucson area for hundreds of years. Now, because relatively new émigrés to Arizona are feeling economically and socially insecure, my family is asking me how to prove they are citizens and what to do if they are asked. This is beyond outrageous.
I knew when I decided to leave Arizona in the early '70s that there was bigotry against Latinos, but I always assumed that it was composed of a small fringe element. Now I know that Arizona, a once proud, pioneering state, has been overrun by the insecure and shameless.
In a recent trip to visit family in the Phoenix area, all the talk was about the new law. Anxiety, anger and uncertainty was everywhere. Would the governor sign or simply let it become law by default?
There was speculation: What will the law do to those tens of thousands of blended families who could be riding with friends and family only to be stopped by law enforcement and asked to prove up? Will citizens be detained and/or arrested for failing to compel friends and/or family members to prove up their citizenship before getting into the family car for a trip to the movies?
My brother-in-law, the owner of a small structural engineering and home inspection business in Phoenix, shared an experience he had even before the law was proposed as an example of mounting tensions. While driving between appointments near Peoria, he was stopped by an officer who asked, "Do you know why I stopped you?" My brother-in law responded, "Yes, I am brown and driving an older model truck."
The officer, appearing flustered, denied that was the reason and stated that it was due to a problem with his brake lights. After testing them several times it was clear that there was no such problem so the officer, without apology said that he would let him go, this time. According to other friends and family, such a scenario is commonplace.
My family is asking questions that no American should be forced to ask. It doesn't take an attorney to understand the issue. This is about moral imperatives, right vs. wrong. It isn't about using fear-mongering and pandering to gain talk-show ratings or to attain and retain public office. It's about recognizing that government cannot and should not use the tyranny of the majority to place its citizens in jeopardy, and that is what the new law does.
We must come together as a country, as a people, to prove to the world that we are not about spouting empty rhetoric about freedom and protection of rights for citizens. We must send a message to all Hispanic Americans that as a people of conscience we stand with them. We must save Arizona from itself and stop its misguided attempt to solve a national challenge at the expense of fellow Americans.
   Darlene  Ruiz, a Sacramento Attorney.

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