It is difficult to describe the sensation I felt when Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070 last Friday. I felt an emotional maelstrom of disgust, despair and utter cynicism over Gov. Brewer’s decision to implement the most draconian and most starkly racist immigration law in the last 50 years.
[media-credit id=20117 align="alignleft" width="114"][/media-credit]SB1070, appropriately dubbed the “Papers, Please” bill by its detractors, forces all law enforcement agencies in Arizona to ask for proof of legal residency or citizenship if an officer feels “reasonable suspicion” that a person is an illegal immigrant. In addition, SB1070 makes it illegal to “give shelter to illegal immigrants” whether knowingly or by “recklessly” disregarding a person’s immigration status. In short, SB1070 is designed to make life utterly unbearable for Arizona’s poorest population, and will certainly result in countless lawsuits, continued poverty and life-long ostracization for Arizona’s Latino population. The most nauseating aspect of this new “law” lies not in the actual substance of the bill, but rather in Gov. Brewer’s cynical courting of the angry white voter in order to win re-election in 2010.
Apologists for the bill, including Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), bizarrely state that a person’s immigration status can be determined “right down to the clothes.” Considering that the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Russell Pearce, is previously best known for forwarding e-mails from the National Alliance, a white supremacist group, and has appeared at public events with numerous white supremacists, it seems fair to say that Sen. Pearce might have more than a touch of bigotry to him. More importantly, Sen. Pearce previously played with racial politics by sponsoring legislation designed to stop “voting fraud” and “welfare fraud” by illegal immigrants, despite being opposed by the Arizona Republican Party and arch-conservative Sen. Jon Kyl. Considering the background of SB1070’s main sponsor (friendly with white supremacists), and the specific ethnicity of SB1070’s intended victims (overwhelmingly Latino), SB1070 is an obvious attempt to focus Arizona voters’ attention away from the Governor’s and Legislator’s incompetence. Instead, Brewer and Pearce are focusing on the old racial canards common in tight political races; by reflecting themselves as champions of white people, Brewer will be able to ride the anxious white vote through the next election.
Playing racial politics rather than promoting good policy is an American tradition as old as the country itself, and Brewer’s short-sighted signature is merely a continuation of it. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush all won presidential elections by consciously becoming the “white man’s candidate,” while the Gingrich house used wholly fabricated depictions of black welfare recipients to cut social safety nets, overwhelmingly benefiting white Americans. Today, Gov. Brewer is trying to pit white voters against Latino voters in a cynical attempt to distract them from her frankly awful budget plan. Brewer’s plan would almost certainly fail to prop up Arizona’s state budget, despite cutting all juvenile corrections, child health care and state park services and imposing a hefty tax hike. In short, Arizona voters are being played like a cheap fiddle.
America is changing, plain and simple. Whether Gov. Brewer or her supporters choose to accept this inconvenient fact is entirely irrelevant; “their America” (where casual racism is normal and where white people hold all political and economic power) is rapidly vanishing, and nothing Brewer or anyone else can do will change this situation. In 20 years, Arizona will be more than 50 percent Hispanic, and a substantial portion will grow up in utter poverty thanks to Gov. Brewer’s wicked law. Considering the sheer insanity apparently emanating from the Tuscon State House, I can only hope two things: I can only hope that such obviously racist laws spur the federal government to finally take on comprehensive immigration reform and allow the millions of immigrants across the country to come out of the shadows. I also hope that when Gov. Brewer is standing at the pearly gates, telling St. Peter why she allowed hundreds of thousands of people to be ostracized, malnourished, harassed and impoverished, she comes up with a better explanation than “I had an election to win.”