Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nasty Law in a Nasty State

GayProf goes away for just a bit of time and look what happens to man’s world! Like most Americans, I watched with revulsion as Arizona passed a draconian measure that basically compels police to harass anyone they “reasonably suspect” to be an undocumented migrant worker. Apparently Arizona is tired of waiting in the shadow of Texas to be named the most evil state in the nation. They want that trophy for themselves!

What constitutes “reasonable suspicion?” To claim that it won’t involve forms of racial profiling is disingenuous at best. Do they seriously think that we believe that police will be instructed to be on the look out for anybody sporting a beret? Are they going to scrutinize people whose clothes suspiciously display a red maple leaf?

Arizona shouldn’t insult our intelligence. This is a mean spirited law that will target people of Mexican descent, particularly if their first language is not English. The law also requires that migrants carry papers with them at all times and produce them on demand. Yet, the law's drafters are shocked -- SHOCKED! -- that many people are making comparisons between Arizona and fascist governments. All Americans who believe in fairness should boycott Arizona.

Those in the historical know see this as a continuation of Arizona’s long history of racism and harassment of Latinos. You might not be aware, but pro-slavery Confederates founded Arizona way back in the 1860s. And weren’t those the type of people you would want as neighbors? It turns out, they didn’t arrive in Arizona with a cherry pie and a smile. They had every intention of instituting a brutal racial hierarchy against the already existing Mexican community in the region (which predated the U.S.-Mexican War). In 1877, the editor of Tucson’s Spanish-language newspaper Las dos repúblicas lamented the “the attack of the [Anglo] hordes from the north . . .” Before the arrival of these white supremacists, Arizona had been part of the territory of New Mexico. For the rebel whites, though, the idea of living in a territory with a Mexican majority was anathema. They therefore separated themselves from New Mexico and created a whole new territory where they could institute a tyrannical government.

One of the first things that whites did when Arizona became a state in 1912 was to enact measures to restrict the civil rights of Mexican Americans. Arizona passed laws that denied the vote to any person unable to “read the Constitution of the U.S. in the English language.” Don’t be deceived, though. Euro Americans never truly wanted to rid Arizona of Mexicans entirely. Through the nineteenth century, corporate mining interests came to control the region. These mines were more than happy to exploit Mexican laborers in inhumane working conditions, harshly segregated living arrangements, and depressed wages. They simply created institutional mechanisms that deprived those workers of their basic voting rights.

So, while I am greatly depressed by it, the new law does not surprise me. Many things strike me about it. Mostly it seems a product of conservative white fantasies about the nation. It distracts from the role Republicans had in crippling the United States economy. Scapegoating Mexican migrants has been a cherished Republican tradition at least since 1929. Republicans hope that it will stop Arizonans from asking tougher questions about the gluttony of the small majority motivated by uncontrolled corporate greed.

Enacting this measure also taps into xenophobic fantasies. It presumes that the nation’s demographics have not already shifted tremendously. Though Republicans might wish it were not true, Latino/as are now the nation’s largest minority (accounting for 15 percent of the total population). No amount of walls or borders will alter that fact.

They seem to be under the delusion that migrating to the United States is just a matter of daintily crossing an imaginary line in the sand. The U.S. Border Patrol, however, has made crossing the border a remarkably brutal endeavor. Their patrols and posts have intentionally funneled undocumented workers into the Sonoran desert. They imagine that making entry into the U.S. so difficult (even deadly) it will deter migrants.

Yet, it does not. We should well ask why not? Migrants brave conditions unimaginable to most Americans. Crossing into the United States is expensive and dangerous. Coyotes routinely abandon entire groups in the desert. Others kidnap those who paid them and extort money from their families in Mexico. Violence, including sexual violence, is well documented in these crossings. Yet, the United States remains blind to the circumstances it is creating on the border.

White supporters of this law also fantasize that the United States exists in some supposed isolation from the neighboring republic in everything except migration. What they don’t seem to appreciate is that migration from Mexico occurs because the U.S. is so deeply intertwined with the history and present of Mexico.

We live in a nation with just 4 percent of the global population, but consume over a quarter of the world’s resources. The overwhelming majority of those who cross into the United States are seeking basic employment opportunities and an escape from the crippling economic conditions in Mexico. Most Americans are probably vaguely aware of the rapid pace that U.S. corporation built factories ( maquiladoras) after the passage of NAFTA in the 1990s. They might not be aware, though, that when the U.S. economy started to decline in 2000, almost 300,000 of those jobs were eliminated in northern Mexico. More than 340 maquiladoras closed between 2000 and 2003. The United States’s unending quest for avoiding a fare wage brought many of those factories to China. WTO membership (and the accompanying changes in tariff restrictions) allowed China to compete with the same labor advantages as Mexico. Between 1997 and 2006, the number of jobs in China’s versions of maquiladoras increased from 18 million to 40 million. Unemployment and underemployment in Mexico leaped by bounds.

I cannot deny that the United States desperately needs to rethink its immigration laws. What I would suggest, though, is that we need to consider the motivations for migration and our commitment to a basic standard of living for the world. It is a nation that depends on the degrading labor of workers that most Americans scarcely know exist to maintain their standard of living.


Bianca Castafiore said...

Hey Gay Prof,
I have been waiting to hear your take on this vile policy. As a resident of the state of Texas it is always surprising to see others behave as poorly as we do. By the way, here's a very nice editorial from the NYTimes: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/26/breathing-while-undocumented/?ref=opinion.
Bianca Castafiore

Anonymous said...

How about the assurances from officials that the new law will not lead to an increase in racial profiling? As far as I can make out this legislation mandates racial profiling. [restraining from use exclamation marks to express outrage]

pacalaga said...

I knew I could count on you. I didn't know that about the history of Arizona, but then, I went to school here so they wouldn't have taught that. (Also went to a Catholic school so there were whole giant subjects, like, say, The Bible, I didn't learn either.) The people who get all huffy about "but they're ILLEGAL" are willfully missing the point. I can't wait to move out of this damn state. Brewer and Pearce can have it.

Peter Maria said...

Thanks for helping me understand the origins of AZ's tradition of bigotry. I've always wondered how NM, sandwiched between TX and AZ, manages to be so much more progressive. Any thoughts?

Mel said...

Wait, are you saying it's not about their immigrant shoes?

Earl Cootie said...

The month before I left Arizona, I temped at a landscaping company with a largely Latino labor force. (All were documented, of course, or they wouldn't have been hired - same as with almost every company in the country!) A few times a year, I was told, the company would lose the majority of the workforce because someone heard a rumor that INS would be at a worksite on XXXday. And so many of the employees wouldn't show up that day (or thereafter), since we all knew someone (or knew someone who knew someone) who'd been deported despite being in the US legally. And the job would get behind schedule; time and money would be lost in hiring new workers. Such a ridiculous waste. All thanks to xenophobic and racist fearmongering.

I would like to see how the state would survive if no Mexican immigrants showed up to work for a week.

Montana said...

Arizona can pass race base laws, pass Birthers laws, pass no permit conceal weapons laws and the state boycotted Martin Luther King Day, well the rest of the Country can boycott the state of Arizona and spank them where it hurts them the most their pocket book. Their phony patriotism is sickening, they are just racists going by another name. We all know you are just itching to put a sheet on their head? Let’s face it the Republicans had eight years to deal with health care, immigration, climate change and financial oversight and governance and they failed. It appears that the Republican Party is only good at starting wars (two in eight years, with fat contracts to friends of Cheney/Bush) but not at winning wars as seen by the continuing line of body bags that keep coming home. The Republicans party will continue turned inward to their old fashion obstructionist party (and their Confederacy appreciation roots) because they continue to allow a small portions (but very loud portion) of their party of “birthers, baggers and blowhards” to rule their party. I will admit that this fringe is very good at playing “Follow the Leader” by listening to their dullard leaders, Beck, Hedgecock, Hannity, O’Reilly, Rush, Savage, Sarah Bailin, Orly Taitz, Victoria Jackson, Michele Bachmann and the rest of the Blowhards and acting as ill programmed robots (they have already acted against doctors that perform abortions). The Birthers and the Tea party crowd think they can scare, intimidate and force others to go along with them by comments like “This time we came unarmed”, let me tell you something not all ex-military join the fringe militia crazies who don’t pay taxes and run around with face paint in the parks playing commando, the majority are mature and understand that the world is more complicated and grey than the black and white that these simpleton make it out to be and that my friend is the point. The world is complicated and people like Hamilton, Lincoln, and Roosevelt believed that we should use government a little to increase social mobility, now it’s about dancing around the claim of government is the problem. The sainted Reagan passed the biggest tax increase in American history and as a result federal employment increased, but facts are lost when mired in mysticism and superstition. For a party that gave us Abraham Lincoln, it is tragic that the ranks are filled with too many empty suits and the crazy Birthers who have not learned that the way our courts work is that you get a competent lawyer, verifiable facts and present them to a judge, if the facts are real and not half baked internet lies, then, and only then, do you proceed to trial. The Birthers seem to be having a problem with their so called “facts”. Let’s face it no one will take the Birthers seriously until they win a case, but until then, you will continue to appear dumb, crazy or racist, or maybe all three. I heard that Orly Taitz now wants to investigate the “Republican 2009 Summer of Love” list: Assemblyman, Michael D. Duvall (CA), Senator John Ensign (NV), Senator Paul Stanley (TN), Governor Mark Stanford (SC), Board of Ed Chair, and Kristin Maguire AKA Bridget Keeney (SC), she wants to re-establish a family values party, that’s like saying that the Catholic Church cares about the welling being of children in their care, too late for that.

Frank said...

Hail, Strong Amazon Sister! I was waiting for your response to this mess. You didn't disappoint.

Chad said...

Well said, and I'm glad to read your response to this atrocious act.

Incidentally, are you going to be at the Queertopia conference in Chicago, by any chance? I'm actually going to be presenting a paper there, so if you can be there to lob me some softball questions I'd be much obliged.

tornwordo said...

It is sad. And I will not be planning any Arizona vacations. I was talking to my dad the other day and he said (he's liberal) he didn't see anything wrong with the law. I asked him if he could prove his citizenship if stopped and asked. He said, "Why would I get stopped?" I don't think he understood my point.

John Gorenfeld said...

Thanks for this refresher. I just tweeted it. Thanks, James K. Polk!

Roger Owen Green said...

called it Arizona Apartheid, and took some heat for it.

RPS77 said...

The argument for a "Confederate" link seems pretty weak to me. How many of today's anglo residents of Arizona are descended from those original Confederate migrants anyway? My guess is a small minority of them. Regardless, political and social views aren't genetic and don't necessarily descend unbroken through the generations, so it seems a little crazy and pretty insulting to make the assumption that white southern descent = chronic racism (as if that was never a serious problem in any other part of the country!)

GayProf said...

RPS77: There is a difference in arguing that racism is somehow genetic (which is a pretty insulting and simple-minded reading of this post) and arguing that there has been a historical discourse about race in Arizona that has informed the state's past and present. I disagree that Arizona's Confederate past is irrelevant for concerns about today (as few people would suggest that the South's Confederate past has no legacy in race relations today). If we think about discourse, then it doesn't really matter when particular people arrived because they become part of that same discourse.

We are also not talking about ancient Rome here -- This is a history that is only a century and a half. Arizona is a state that formed its government structures around narrow ideas of U.S. identity (such as English being the only national language). Anti-Mexican sentiment has been a consistent part of the state's history and the new laws are only the most recent incarnation of that sentiment.

You're right that racism is everywhere in the country; but how that racism gets played out depends on the particularities of region.

RPS77 said...

Arizona is a state that formed its government structures around narrow ideas of U.S. identity (such as English being the only national language). Anti-Mexican sentiment has been a consistent part of the state's history and the new laws are only the most recent incarnation of that sentiment.

How does that make it different from at least half of the other states?

You also seem to assume that discourse doesn't change much over time, and that racism is the only possible reason for anti-immigrant feelings, which ignores other concerns such as economics.

GayProf said...

RPS77: Discourses do change over time, but they also don't emerge ex nihilo. So, the Arizona legislature might no longer openly discuss white superiority as they did a century ago. Nonetheless, there are still presumptions that certain people automatically "belong" in the territory (like the recently arrived Euro Americans that you mention) and those that don't (recently arrived Mexican migrants). That sense of who has a legitimate place in the state hinges on an assumption that national borders are logical, coherent, and need to be actively policed. It also ignores how those borders were historically created and the types of power imbalances that they create.

As I also suggest in this post, framing this question as one of economics implies that somehow the U.S. economy is separate and distinct from Mexico's (or the larger global economy). Rather, I think immigration (and the resultant anxieties) are linked quite a bit to the way in which the U.S. is in favor of the flow of free capital across borders, but not free labor.

It seems to me that targeting migrant workers as a "solution" to economic concerns is a form of scapegoating (which has a long history in this country); but it isn't productive or really addressing the central economic problems. There is also a substantial debate about whether migrants "cost" the national/state economy, or whether they actually contribute much more than they consume.

Anonymous said...

Hi Prof,
Well, at least these new proposed laws are ridiculous on their face. Maybe the true motivations of their authors will be laid bare now.
I did not appreciate how demeaning the application of this law would be until I read your post. The thought of hispanic citizens being "asked for their papers" at the whim of the state would be demeaning. Of course, I suspected that there were racial motivations behind it, but sometimes bad intentions backfire. If the law were evenly applied (like that is going to happen), many business owners would have to pay higher wages.

Just to look at it from US worker's perspective, all those factories that NAFTA brought to Mexico represent jobs that were lost in the US. Should it be surprising that there is an aggravated resentment that some (for example construction at $15, 20, 25/hr) wages in the US are being depressed by the immigration of cheaper labor?

Of course, the people in the Republican party (business owners, shareholders) have encouraged both of these events (with the help of blue-dogs like Clinton), and now they complain about the consequences of their own desires. They would even send us to war to protect corporate interests as they undermine our wages and debase the currency.

This is the age-old divide and conquer strategy, where the wealthy class divides the opposition by using emotional issues like abortion, firearms, and racism to peel-off enough voters to cripple the opposition. The Democrats then aggravate these groups by passing discriminatory hate-crime and affirmative action laws. Frankly, I would want to be hired for my qualifications. If someone assaulted me for being gay, I would only expect for them to receive the same punishment as for any other assault victim (I might WANT more severe punishment, though).

Thank you for your thoughtful site.
Bill Leonard