Posted in politics
May 2, 2010

The most difficult thing I’ve had to write: Arizona

I’ve been working on this post for the better part of this last week. Started it, scrapped it, and continued to feel compelled to write it- even though I know I couldn’t detach myself from it the way that I knew I should when discussing a subject this controversial. This probably isn’t my best writing. I am sure that there are grammatical errors and typos. But I’ve written this, and I’ve put it out there, and I can move on with my writing. -W

I love Arizona. I was born there, and while I love California, I feel such a deep connection to the Sonoran Desert and the land of my fore-fathers… I’m getting ahead of myself. My mother’s family has lived in Arizona for some time. How long? My ancestors were conquistadors who settled in what would become Arizona. My great-grandfather was a rancher as well as a lawman. I’ve been proud of my Arizonan heritage. When asked to do school reports, I liked to choose Arizona, covering different facets of its history. I even considered moving to Arizona, despite the fact that it’s political climate is very conservative and I am not.

However, I am deeply disturbed by the law recently passed by Arizona’s legislature and signed by the governor that makes illegal status a state crime. The law (and it’s amendment) give state and local lawmen the power to ask an individual their immigration status and to detain them if they cannot.

I know why the law was written, and can understand the concerns. Violence spills into Arizona from Mexico, from drug cartels. Also, in this time of economic distress, many who have a difficult time finding jobs and making a living are concerned that illegal immigrants are taking jobs that legal citizens might take, and that state systems are burdened with caring for illegal immigrants.

Regardless of whether or not I agree with that, this law doesn’t solve those problems. In fact, all it does is create problems. The recently passed amendment sought to close a loop-hole, to eliminate racial profiling. But does it really? While it meant that police could only question someone’s legal status if they were stopping them for something else (keeping police from being able to stop anyone), it doesn’t stop them from finding reasons to stop them simply because they’re Hispanic. In fact, even though the law doesn’t take effect until July, a man alleges that he was asked for proof of his citizenship and detained until he could provide it.

But it’s easy to provide it, correct? I mean, the law specifies that all you need is an Arizona driver’s license, an Arizona non-driving identification license, valid tribal identification or any identification accepted at the federal/state/local level. Sounds easy, right? Except that many states offer drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants (a program designed to make sure that all driver’s are tested and qualified to be on the road, as well as to bring in funds from anyone who drives). Does this mean that the police will have to be trained to memorize which states have those programs, as well as memorizing all the little details that make a state license a state license- otherwise, everyone will simply get a fake license from another state. No. It means that when seeing an out of state driver’s license and an individual they suspect of being immigrants they will instead ask for a birth certificate.

I will concede that in our current economic climate, it is understandable to be concerned with illegal immigrants stealing our nation’s resources and jobs that unemployed Americans could take. However, this law is not the answer.

But it’s simply to eliminate illegal aliens. They’ve said that police can’t use race as a determination… right? So that means it isn’t racial profiling. While it is true that they’ve stated that police cannot stop anyone based on race alone, it doesn’t mean that a motivated lawman couldn’t start pulling over any Hispanic person with a burnt taillight, or who swerved slightly. Which is still racial profiling.

Not only that, those pulled over will have to provide proper identification to prove their legal status. What counts as proper identification? A valid Arizona Driver’s license, a AZ non-operating identification license, tribal enrollment card, or valid federal, state, or local issued identification. Which means, what? Social security card, green card, proof of naturalization or birth certificate (in addition to driver’s licenses). However, since several states do not prohibit illegal immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses, and one cannot expect police to memorize what the remaining 49 states’ licenses look like- it is entirely possible that people will need to carry birth certificates. You know, the sorts of documents that security experts tell you that you shouldn’t carry on you at all times.

And why is that? Your birth certificate, social security card/number – those are the documents you need to open and close bank accounts, to obtain lines of credit- to prove you are who you are. For the most part, driver’s licenses or state ID’s are merely to put your image with the name on those documents. Carrying them around on you, or in your vehicle, only increases the chance that your identity can be stolen.

You might think I’m pushing it, but if that’s what I immediately thought of, it’s what criminals will think of too.

The parameters of the law mean that there are two groups especially vulnerable to unfair persecution. Those too young to have a legal ID, or too old to have a driver’s license. Should senior citizens be required to pay for an identification simply because they can no longer drive? Or carry papers with them everywhere simply because they might be asked about their legal status? What about children. Will a teenager or child who shoplifts suddenly find themselves in the custody of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) because they don’t have ID?

So, if you aren’t Hispanic or brown skinned, you probably don’t think that this affects you. But think about the message that it sends. The United States was founded by immigrants. People who came to this land for a new start and escape tyranny. In the nearly 234 years our country has existed, people have come to America for a new start. During the industrial revolution, the Statue of Liberty was built as a monument to the freedom that we represented, and the spirit of freedom we gave to France. Did everyone who come to our shores do so legally? No. Were people harassed because they were immigrants? Yes. Legal or not. It was a dark blemish on our country and one we don’t like to discuss. But still, most of those individuals were counted as citizens when it came to equality because they were white.

It wasn’t so long ago that African-Americans gained legal equality, even though they had been freed from slavery after the Civil War. And now it seems that the Hispanic community must continue to fight for equality, even though the United States expanded into territory that had been the property of Spain in the mid 19th century, before the Civil War.

My family lived in Arizona before it was Spain, and before it was Mexico, and before it was the United States. Yet, when I come back to Arizona to visit my family, I’m going to have to bring legal proof that I was born there, and that my family was born in the United States. And prepare myself that a traffic stop without those papers could lead my entire family to be sent to ICE until someone can bring them.

You may feel that illegal immigration is a problem. But please, understand that this is not the answer. Yes, I’m angry. Yes, I’m sure that I’ve taken some of these arguments a bit far. But this does impact my way of life as a citizen of the United States. A citizen who votes in her home state and pays taxes. I think I’m entitled to be angry.

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