Monday, April 26, 2010

Boycott Arizona

Last week, I had the distinct honor of attending a dramatic reading, poetry slam and awards ceremony for the Marel Brown Creative Writing Program, an arts and cultural enrichment program administered by the Boys and Girls Club of metro Atlanta. I gave a speech meant to inspire young writers, but I was the one who walked away with the gift; these children, with their poems and their puppet shows and their dances and their readings, moved me in ways that reminded me why I fell in love with writing, and especially why I adore children.

But it was one club in particular that moved me to tears. The group of about 10 girls did a dramatic reading of a play about the children of illegal immigrants; in it, each child took turns relaying what it feels like to have high hopes for integrating into our culture and grabbing hold of the American dream, but live in constant fear that their already fragile home lives would be unravelled by their parents' illegal status. In one scene, one little girl tried to comfort her sister by helping her practice English while they lay in bed, waiting for their mother to arrive home from work. Even as they spoke of their hopes of learning the language, they were worried sick that their mother's tardiness was a sign that she'd been "taken away just like Papi." There was real fear in their voices—and sadness. So much sadness. These children, no more than 10 or 11, brought home for me just how tenuous are the lives of children who, through no fault of their own, can never, ever get comfortable here in a country (of immigrants) that has displayed, under no uncertain terms, that they don't give a flying fig about immigrants (of color).

It is this that I was channelling when I read THIS STORY about Arizona enacting a law meant to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants. According to The New York Times:

(the law) requires police officers, “when practicable,” to detain people they reasonably suspect are in the country without authorization and to verify their status with federal officials, unless doing so would hinder an investigation or emergency medical treatment.

It also makes it a state crime — a misdemeanor — to not carry immigration papers. In addition, it allows people to sue local government or agencies if they believe federal or state immigration law is not being enforced.

Any reasonable person can see where this is going, and I'm going to raise my voice in calling it what it is: Racial profiling. You can not tell me that police will be stopping blonde-haired, blue-eyed Arizonans and checking their wallets for immigration documents, or that their "reasonable" suspicions of who is an illegal won't focus on our Latino and Mexican brothers and sisters. Hell, I got a couple people in my family that could pass for Latino; if they find themselves in Arizona, they better keep their drivers' licenses handy, lest they find themselves on a flight headed South of the border.

Here's what's got my goat: Whenever there are any threats from government enforcement of immigration laws, or changes in them, the place where you see the impact the quickest and most severely is in schools. A lot of these families have a precarious enough lifestyle as it is, which sometimes makes it difficult for their kids to stay in school for an entire year. But when they fear that the school may become a place where a family will be targeted, they'll keep their kids home—thus keeping the family trapped in poverty for another generation.

The beautiful thing about America has always been the way immigrants could use education to lift themselves—the ranks of millionaires and billionaires in this country are filled with people who came here with nothing, got an education, and created a product or business that improved the lifestyles of us all. In fact, there have been many complaints by the science and computer departments in our universities that our tougher immigration laws are keeping brilliant, creative minds out of the United States, and those people are taking their talents elsewhere. Imagine if the immigration laws of today were the same 20 years ago: There would be no Google.

Now, I'm all for making folks caught trying to sneak across our borders turn it back around until they can find a legitimate way to get up in here. What I'm categorically against is harassing the ones who are here already, and certainly dragging legal American citizens through the mud to get at the illegals, many of whom, at the end of the night, just want to make it home from a hard day's work to their children—children who might be sitting next to your kids in class, or kicking around with them on the soccer fields every Saturday, or taking turns with them on the swings at your local park, or just living their lives, trying to be something bigger and better than their mothers and fathers could have ever imagined. These children may be your children's friends. Their mothers may be passing out cupcakes at the end-of-the-school-year party. Or a fellow member of your PTA.

You never know.

Lest we forget, we moms of color and moms of children of color know exactly what racial profiling is and how devastating it can be to be targeted by law enforcement simply because of the color of our skin. Racial profiling is real and humiliating and infuriating—and leaves everyone on the opposite end of the nightstick feeling so very powerless. I say we stand up in solidarity with our fellow people of color and boycott Arizona (it wouldn't be the first time; we gave a collective middle finger to that state years ago when John McCain refused to support the bill that eventually made Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a federal holiday): don't go to or hold any conventions there, don't vacation there, and don't support any businesses based there. And while you're at it, sign THIS PETITION calling on your fellow Americans to do the same.

If for no other reason, do it for the children.

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  1. It's Jim Crow for Mexican Americans. We must stop this!

  2. I too, voice your same thoughts. Those that are here should have a right to be here. The borders should be secured. Then, those who do come over illegally, will be sent home.

    I have relatives that live in AZ. I have yet to hear their voices on this but I'm sure they are just as outraged.

  3. Totally racial profiling!! Wish I could say more but you said it well. Great post ma!!

  4. @Jewelry Rockstar My sentiments exactly. Denene, thanks for sharing this information. I have signed the petition and encourage others to do the same. It's NEVER okay to complain and wrinkle our brows unless we're willing to let our voices be heard.

  5. It is disheartening to see such a blatant racist act become law. Shame on Arizona. To think elected officials actually debated, voted and passed this legislation is just, well, I can't put it into words but it breaks my heart. This is not a solution to the problem and shame, shame, shame on Arizona for passing such legislation.

  6. I live here in Arizona, and never could quite wrap my head around the illegal immigration problem as it's presented since the same people I hear bellowing the loudest at the tea parties are passing envelopes under the table at those same parties and paying meager wages to said "illegal" human beings! Hmm, get the irony at the use of illegal there?

    It is racial profiling and there are no two ways about it-this is akin to legalizing the driving/shopping/just going home in the nice neighborhood you work tirlessly to afford, while being Black, only now it's for Latinos.

  7. Thanks for the laughs, the Tea Party conservatives said nothing and did nothing while Bush and the Republican Congress were getting the country into deeper and deeper trouble. The conservatives who organize the Tea Party protests sat on their hands and did nothing. They did nothing when the balanced budget was destroyed by Bush, nothing when Bush exploded the deficit, nothing when Bush cut taxes instead of raising them to pay for the war he started. So honestly who cares what your small group says or wants your phony patriotism is sickening.

  8. This does strike as a form of racial profiling, however I have a family I work with now where her, her husband and 2 of 4 children are illegal. The government will only give her aid for the two children who are born here. Well this is clearly not enough. Neither parent can find a job with no social security number..its a trap....
    at the risk of being stoned to death.. I honestly agree with most of what Arizona is attempting to pass. It saddens me to see the parents want so much but still suffer. Illegal is illegal and we cannot ban some folks from coming over illegal and getting stopped at the border and not ban those that were a little smarter in their illegal tactics in actually getting over. It is a downward spiral to many employees here and to our much broken economy to pay these illegal immigrants "under the table" and it is a slap in the face to them because most of the time these immigrants are not paid fairly...these children go to school but who foots the tax bill for them? If their parents are not legal then they are not contributing...suffocating our drained educational system even more...our insufficient hospitals....I could go on and on but I won't ..I am not sure whats the difference...illegal is illegal and Arizona seems to be taking some steps as oppose to sitting and do nothing at all....but as I said at the risk of being stoned!

  9. @Blaqbutterfly: Oh girl, you know I'm not going to throw rocks. But I will debate, with great respect for your opinion. Here goes:

    I do agree that illegal immigrants post a financial drain on our already taxed system and that they suffer from being paid unfairly. But how is authorizing a law that sanctions racial profiling helping the situation? This law means that AMERICAN CITIZENS who LOOK like immigrants (read: Mexican, Jamaican, African, insert your non-European ethnicity here, because I assure you they won't be pulling over people who "look" Russian or French or Czech or Irish) have to carry passports or birth certificates with them AT ALL TIMES or risk being arrested and jailed until they can prove their citizenship. How does stopping, searching, and arresting someone who looks like my daughter's soccer buddy, whose family has lived in this country just as long as mine, help unclog our hospitals? Or make our educational system better? Or improve pay for minimum wage workers?

    It doesn't. All it does is authorize the systematic governmental harassment of people of color. And really, with an estimated 12 MILLION illegal immigrants in this country, do you really think the U.S. is prepared to ship them all back to their homelands? It's time we be REALISTIC about illegal immigration, and be smart about solutions.

    During the election, I heard several intriguing ideas about how to deal with the issue, including making illegal immigrants already on our soil pay to stay. They would pay restitution to the U.S. and get temporary citizenship and get in line to apply for legitimate legal status like everyone else trying to become citizens in this country. This way, illegals can take jobs that pay a fair wage, come out of hiding, and show their commitment to this country by paying taxes, being law-abiding citizens, and being able to come out of hiding and participate in our society.

    This is humane. I would argue that this is the American way. At least the old school American way. Today's American way seems to call for us to be as evil as we possibly can to people who don't "look" American—whatever the hell that's supposed to mean.

    Blakbutterfly: I assure you that I understand and appreciate your opinion, and it's welcome here. I may not necessarily agree with it, but if your opinions are presented respectfully (as yours was!), I'm game for healthy debate. Thanks for sharing you opinion!

  10. I am weighing in on the side of blaqbutterfly ( also at the risk of being hated). I understand the feelings of fear it is instilling in illegals, but this is a state trying to take some control when the federal government has been unwilling to help. They continue to say they will take on the problem, but then do nothing. Arizona is saying the effect of illegals on their state can no longer be ignored. I saw one sheriff interviewed, and his point was that up until this point local law enforcement had no power. So, if an illegal committed a crime, the officer knew he would never show up to court and they were not allowed to ask for proof of citizenship. He said one town in Az had 64 high speed chases in the last two months involving illegals. He said they know they can't be questioned about citizenship, they never intend to show up to court, so they are not obeying the laws of the country/ state of Az. (I am only talking about those illegals who are breaking laws once they are here). He says these police officers' jobs are to uphold the law and protect the citizens of the state. But, their hands are tied when it comes to illegal aliens. I don't know if this is the right answer or not, but I can understand the state taking things into their own hands when the federal government ignores the problem. And, as cold as it may seem, lets not forget that all those who are here illegally (regardless of color) broke the laws of this country when they came here.

  11. @Beverly: How exactly do the officers know that the people who they chased were illegals if they weren't allowed to check their citizenship? Was the assumption that they were illegals because they looked like Mexicans or someone else who didn't grow up here? Where I lived in NJ, they had carjacking and high speed chases every day, as they do here in GA and they do in California and Michigan and everywhere else in this country, and somehow, the government and law enforcement manages to do their jobs without taking away the basic rights of people of color.
    I'm not saying that AZ doesn't have a problem; it's just that the practical application of this cockamamie law makes absolutely NO sense. If the point was to allow police officers to ask someone's legal status when they are caught committing a crime, why not adhere to the law that was ALREADY ON AZ BOOKS, allowing police officers to see proof of citizenship if the person they are questioning is in the middle of being caught committing a crime. THAT WAS AN AZ LAW. The new law says that's not enough: Now, every person a cop thinks MIGHT be an illegal—even if they're not doing anything other than walking down the street and looking "illegal" (whatever the heck that is)—then those officers have the right to demand to see proof of citizenship.

    Now, I'm an American citizen, and I admit that I might take my kids and my dog for a walk through my neighborhood—a right nice neighborhood, in fact—without I.D. If I lived in AZ and did this and a cop came along and thought I looked like an illegal Jamaican, which is quite possible, then both my kids and I could be taken down to the station and questioned and held until someone came along with our birth certificates to prove we are, indeed citizens. Does this eliminate the problem of illegal immigration in America? Or does this just drive illegals deeper into hiding, and leave the rest of us citizens vulnerable to harassment and profiling.

    I'm arguing the latter.

    I'm not suggesting that illegals should be handled with kid gloves, by any stretch. What I'm arguing is that we stop being illogical about how we handle the situation and start being SMART about it. This law is just simply ridiculous and anyone who takes two seconds to think about it's effect (or lack thereof) and its potential harm can see it.

    Again, 'nuff respect to your opinion. I simply do not agree with it.

  12. I think Beverly makes a good point.. they did break the law when they crept into our country. It makes them no better than those that got caught? Why would they be entittled to stay just because they may have been a little more craftier than the next?? If I break the law I face a judge...but come over here illegally and you have a chance of staying?? I can't say that Arizona has worked out all the bugs...but they are no longer sitting on the sidelines...I wish more states would move forward and at least take it to the polls or something?

  13. @Blaqbutterfly: I think Beverly makes a good point, too, and I agree with you that something needs to be done to address the issue. But that doesn't negate the fact that the AZ law is foolhardy and won't do squat to solve their problems or bring people breaking the law to justice.

    I'm thinking a much more uniform, intelligent approach from the federal level would be fantastic; that way, we could avoid patchwork, ineffective, mean-spirited laws like AZ's.

  14. I'm sorry I'm a day late but can someone tell me why some Americans (the ones on the news and one post here) call illegals people "aliens"? I find it degrading and rude and I just don't understand how human beings can label another human as an "alien". As a Black Canadian looking in and hearing about this law I was appalled, saddened and frightened for "people of color" in America. Tell me Blaqbutterfly what happens when that one racist cop stops you or a black person because he/she believes that you're not American because you're not white, what then??? A white co worker once told me that to this day his dad doesn't think anyone who is non white is a Canadian. I'm a 32 years old black woman born and bred Canadian. Now if we got some of those types up here I'm sure you've got many of the same types down there. Don't be so sure that they don't mean you too when they talk about the "illegal alien". My thoughts and prayers are with all people of color in America. Thank God for the Obamas...damn I love that family! Be sure to send them our way if you guys don't see the need for them, most of us will gladly take them :)

    P.S. Denene, can I sign the petition? I'm guessing no but thought I would ask anyways.

  15. @SidJazz: Absolutely, you can sign the petition. It's for anyone who thinks the law is ridiculous and thinks it should be repealed.

  16. Thanks I just did! Now can you help me out with this "Alien" thing. Who coined that phrase and how come its only used on illegal Mexicans. Whenever I hear it I get the same sick feeling I got when I heard the term "refugees" being used to call the victims of Hurricane Katerina. Its just wrong to classify people as aliens and people should just stop using it in that context.


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