Originally written on April 25, 2010

On Friday, April 24, Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a new immigration bill requiring local police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal immigrants. What the actual reason is that police would suspect someone of being an illegal immigrant is not stated in the law, but is left to the discretion of the officers. The reality is every single resident of Arizona of Latino descent–about 30% of the state’s population–is a potential target for police interrogation.

This bill is the culmination of a decade’s long attempt at fear-mongering that spreads false information about the actual costs–fiscal and social–of illegal immigration, all in an effort to use the already racist inclinations of a white population duped into the belief that “American” culture, language and identity is threatened by illegal immigrants. Of course, the illegal immigrants they speak of only pertain to Latin America–Mexico at the forefront–and do not mention immigrants from any other part of the world that come to this country every year, just like Latinos, but whose skin is not dark and whose native language is not Spanish. Fear-mongers like Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck, among many others, manipulate their audience into a belief system that re-enforces racist stereotypes, perpetuates lies about the actual costs of illegal immigration and presents hypothetical scenarios about the downfall of white American culture at the hands of these immigrants.

The new law passed by Gov. Brewer is nothing more than an attempt to appease the fringe element of the white Arizona population, who has consistently accused her administration and previous administrations as well, of not being tough enough on illegal immigrants. The law also makes it illegal to hire illegal immigrants as day laborers, and I cannot argue against that considering the exploitation of these day laborers; but it is the fact that police are now required to question individuals they suspect of being illegal immigrants that is truly appalling. Considering that Arizona is home to so many Latinos, the overwhelming majority of whom are legal residents and citizens, this law denies every one of us the simple right to freedom of movement and privacy.

If one looks at the comments of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio–a man who has never seen a television camera he didn’t love–who says: “Now if we show they’re illegal, we can actually arrest them and put them in our jails,” it becomes clear that profit for the prison industrial complex plays a large role in the passing of this bill. So, if they’re not citizens of this country, we are going to imprison them in our country, at taxpayer expense, rather than deport them back to their home country? Be assured if you profit from the construction and operation of private prisons in Arizona–operated at taxpayer expense–this is the greatest day of your life. Think of all of the new prisons to be built in order to feed, clothe and shelter all of the illegal immigrants that will now be taken care of by taxpayers at a cost of over $20,000 per year. Makes perfect sense to me.

I lived in Southern Arizona for over five years. I attended public school there; worked and paid taxes there; voted in my very first election in 1994 at the age of eighteen there–yet I am ashamed to now admit my connection to this beautiful southwestern desert state. Many of my friends, colleagues and classmates in Arizona were of Mexican descent. Many of them come from families that have been in this country for generations, some longer than my family and many other white American families. Now, every one of them can potentially be stopped, questioned and possibly detained and imprisoned (if their identification doesn’t meet the vague and ambiguous standards of the particular officer) simply because they “look” Hispanic. Yes, racism is alive and well in Arizona, and it’s now the law.