Thursday, July 15, 2010

Arizona: Boycott America's Most Racist State

Back in 1993 the NFL pulled the planned Superbowl out of Arizona because the state government refused to recognize Martin Luther King Day. The pressure ultimately worked, the state instituted the day and were rewarded in 1996 with a Superbowl. But Arizona racism runs deep and MLK Day hasn't stopped the state from continuing in the vanguard of US racism - no mean feat in a country with so much of it. This is a state that bans "ethnic studies" in its public school, reinforcing ignorance of other cultures.
Back in April, Arizona's governor signed into law SB 1070, known also by its more polemical title "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighbourhoods" Act. It will become law on July 29. The law effectively legalizes and encourages racial profiling by the police. If you "look" like an "alien", the police have the right to stop and demand to see your papers. It is obvious towards whom this is directed - the significant state Latino population, who already suffered the effects of racial profiling, as this excellent editorial in the Washington Post points out.
This law isn't about solving the immigration issue; it's about scapegoating, an established practice in Arizona. For years, law enforcement agencies have criticized the Maricopa County sheriff's office for not serving felony arrest warrants in favor of conducting "saturation" sweeps in which hundreds of Latinos have been indiscriminately arrested in order to find undocumented immigrants. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has stated that "citizens are being stopped because they are brown," and in a letter to the Justice Department he asked for a federal investigation into Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio based on his "pattern and practice of conduct that includes discriminatory harassment, improper stops, searches, and arrests." And this was before SB1070 became law.
While there was an immediate and vociferous outcry from immigrants and immigrants' rights organizations, there are nonetheless ten other states, including Texas and Colorado, considering implementing a similar law. It is no exaggeration to say that this is the most draconian, racist immigration law to be passed in generations. Sadly, Obama has done little to disperse the myths of a crime wave by "illegal aliens" announcing that he would add 1,200 troops to patrol the US-Mexico border.
Not surprisingly, the media has been in lockstep with the most virulent anti-immigrant propaganda. Bill O'Reilly of Fox News ranted in May that "Phoenix is the kidnapping capital of the United States. Crime is through the roof. Drugs are coming across the border all the time. So what do you expect Arizona to do?" Except that every word out of his mouth was a lie.
Arizona's crime rate has been falling for several years, even as the number of immigrants to Arizona, both documented and undocumented, has been increasing.
What's more, study after study has shown that foreign-born immigrants are, in fact, less likely than native-born white Americans to commit crimes...
The endless repetition of the assertion, no matter that it is directly contradicted by the evidence, has nevertheless had its impact. When asked whether "more immigrants cause higher crime rates," 25 percent of Americans replied "very likely" and another 48 percent said "somewhat likely," according to the National Opinion Research Center's 2000 General Social Survey. This three-quarters of the U.S. population that believes there is a causal link between immigration and crime is significantly greater than the 60 percent of people who think more immigrants are somewhat likely or very likely "to cause Americans to lose jobs."
Not surprisingly the bloviating of scumbags like O'Reilly and right-wing, talk-radio agitators has had an effect upon attitudes towards immigration in America and in Arizona, with something like 67 percent of the US population supporting the Arizona measure. But even still a clear majority support legalization and "paths to citizenship" for immigrants coming into the country. According to this article by Justin Akers Chacón, such support remains large and solid, particularly amongst younger people.
A May 2009 CNN poll found that two out of three people supported legalization. A May 2010 CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll found that while there is a substantial increase in support for enforcement measures, 80 percent of respondents nationally support "creating a program that would allow illegal immigrants already living in the United States for a number of years to stay here and apply to legally remain in this country permanently if they had a job and paid back taxes."
Drilling down beneath the support for SB 1070 is also revealing. According to an America's Voice poll conducted in June, 84 percent of national respondents who supported SB 1070 also support comprehensive immigration reform that includes legalization.
The truth of these numbers can be seen from the fact that at the end of May somewhere approaching 100,000 people marched in Arizona in opposition to the law, while the "Stand With Arizona" rally in support of the law drew about 7,000 people. A national mobilization, called "Phoenix Rising", a week later drew less than 1,000 people. On May 1, over half a million people marched in over 100 cities across the US in support of immigrants rights. And back in March 200,000 marched in Washington to demand comprehensive immigration reform. And the numbers of union and community leaders speaking out against the law continues to grow, along with unions and others which have passed resolutions condemning the law. Given the attempts by some to use populist rhetoric about "American jobs" being stolen by immigrants, it is especially important that the union movement has come out solidly opposed to this law.
The outrage that the racist Arizona law has generated is leading to a broad-based and widespread move towards boycotting the state. In 2011 the Major League Baseball All-Star Game is scheduled to take place in Arizona. An open letter has been sent to Bud Selig, the MLB commissioner, calling for it to be removed unless Arizona drops the law. This has been signed by the president of the AFL-CIO, the union central representing millions of American workers and numerous other community leaders. A website has been set up to promote a national and international boycott of the state. Boycotts have been decided upon or are being considered in Seattle, Berkeley, Burlington, and Chicago.
This pressure is no doubt behind the fact that the Department of Justice finally announced on July 6 that it would challenge SB 1070 as unconstitutional. Obama also spoke out against the Arizona law on July 2, after too long a silence on the issue and a failure to deal with immigration reform for the first half of his mandate - though he used the rhetoric of the Immigrant Rights Movement to help get himself elected.
He also accepts the law and order discourse on immigration and suggests that illegals in the USA are criminals by definition who ought to be punished.
Ultimately, he said, "our nation, like all nations, has the right and obligation to control its borders and set laws for residency and citizenship. And no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable."
Obama said those who entered the country illegally must admit they broke the law, register with the appropriate authorities, pay taxes, pay a fine, and learn English. They must "get right with the law before they can get in line and earn their citizenship."
As always, American politicians abdicate the responsibility of their own country in creating refugee crises. US foreign policy acts to create situations where immigrants seek to flee to somewhere more prosperous. Haitians flee Haiti because the US has prevented that country from developing independently (including generations of reparations that were paid to France for overthrowing French slavery) and kidnapped the countries' democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrande Aristide. The US overthrew, invaded or funded coups in countries throughout Central America - just this week sending thousands of Marines to Costa Rica, off the coast of Nicaragua. The US contributes to poverty and repression in Mexico through the support for maquilladora (free trade) zones and the crushing of independent unions and indigenous resistance by US corporations and US backed political actors. Almost every country in South America has experience an American-backed coup against reformist leaderships who seek to develop their countries and alleviate poverty. What's more, both Texas and significant portions of California were illegally stolen from Mexico in the first place.
Rolling back this present round of attacks, part of a longer-term assault in immigrants rights in America, where 11 million people (up to 5 percent of the workforce) are undocumented, will require dispensing with the whole legal-illegal language. This is about human rights and workers' rights since the wealthy have few obstacles to living wherever they want in the world. Defeating the Arizona law could be an important victory in the movement to roll back that assault. Take the opportunity to join the Boycott Arizona movement - write to Bud Selig, pass resolutions in your union, community, or school. Send a strong message that racism is unwelcome everywhere.
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