Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling to uphold the “show me your papers” provision in the case of Arizona v. the United States leaves Latinos and people of color in the state – and any other state where a similar law might spring up – open to racial profiling as law enforcement officers have been given the go-ahead to stop and question anyone. In Arizona, where the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio runs internment-style detention camps and where he forced a woman to give birth in shackles, activists say the human rights crisis in the state has been serious long before the fight over SB 1070 began.
What SB 1070 did do, they say, was encourage people to reach the next level in their human rights struggle. While people of color in Arizona face dehumanizing language, laws, and moneyed anti-immigrant groups, they remain strong in confronting injustice head on and rejecting the dehumanizing, racist law. The Alto Arizona campaign just released this video highlighting strong voices that challenge every single one of us to join them in standing up and calling on President Obama to intervene by cutting off SB 1070’s access to ICE.
“For now racial profiling is law in Arizona,” said Carlos Garcia, an organizer with the Phoenix-based immigrant rights group Puente Arizona. “Slavery and segregation were too once legal. Legal does not mean moral or ethical.”
Garcia’s remark is so important because it does away with an excuse that we’ve all likely heard, usually used by someone in attempt to better explain or excuse the behavior of governments or bystanders during horrible chapters in history that have harmed women, people of color, queer people, gender non-conforming people and people with disabilities: “Maybe they didn’t know any better back then.” It’s a tired, old excuse that prevents us from being critical or applying our standards of how human beings should be treated no matter what year it is.
The United States has a history of mistreating immigrants with explicitly racist policy. The 1790 Naturalization Act provided naturalized citizenship for white people only and did “not descend to persons whose fathers have never been resident in the United States.” In the spring of 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, discriminating against people of Chinese origin in the United States. Initially a ten-year policy, it was extended indefinitely, made permanent in 1902 and finally repealed in 1943 when the U.S. saw China as a political ally. It barred Chinese immigrants from ever becoming citizens and prevented family reunification for immigrants that would have wanted to bring their families over after working to build U.S. railroads. Earlier this month, after 130 years, the House of Representatives officially and formally passed a bipartisan resolution to express regret. What Congress is apologizing for in 2012 sounds very familiar, because it’s happening again in battleground states like Arizona.
Whether or not the intention was there, the Supreme Court has added to the government’s body of work that serves to entrench the country further in an anti-immigrant, anti “other” view. The Supreme Court’s written syllabus and opinion on SB 1070 is shocking in its display of dehumanizing, racially charged, anti-immigrant terms like “unlawful aliens”, “aliens”, “unauthorized alien”, and “illegal aliens.” In an important paper in the Fordham Law Review that I’ve quoted from before, Keith Cunningham-Parmeter says:
Words cannot be divorced from their culturally grounded meanings. When legal actors speak of “aliens,” a series of qualities comes to mind about the target group: aliens are nonhuman; aliens are illegal border-crossers; and aliens are Mexicans. Those who doubt the metaphoric nature of “alien” and reduce its meaning to simple statutory or definitional terms assume a level of mutual exclusivity in language that does not exist.”
Parmeter reminds us that alien-specific legislation like the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Alien Land Laws in the early 1900s and The Alien Registration Act of 1940 “reflected a conceptual understanding of aliens that matched the word’s etymology. Because aliens were defined as ‘hostile’ and ‘strange,’ early legislatures enacted laws to protect citizens from the other-worldly threat depicted by these metaphoric representations.”
Opal Tometi, organizer with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) says of SB 1070, “Drafters of anti-immigrant legislation meant to destroy our communities, however these types of laws have only emboldened our communities to fight harder together. We are working more collaboratively, fearlessly and deliberately between communities of African descent and Latino communities. We’ve built multicultural coalitions in the past to fight for our rights and we’ll continue to do so.
“We’re certain that we’ll be found on the winning side of history once again.”
There are always voices that rise up against injustice. Puente Arizona, one of the grassroots groups at the forefront of the migrant rights movement in the state, identifies itself as part of the global movement for migrant justice and human rights. The community-based group promotes justice, non-violence, interdependence and human dignity. They pass on knowledge for people to develop their own leadership, know their rights, organize and defend themselves. The people in Arizona say they never had faith in the DOJ Supreme Court case, they have faith in their people. And they will not comply.
Puente Arizona and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) with their Alto Arizona campaign are encouraging people to reach out to President Obama. You can sign their petition here.