When I agreed to fly from the DC Metro Area to Phoenix and help my cousin, Edna, drive back to Ohio, I was happy to have the chance to spend so much time with a very dear relative on what I imagined would be a great cross country adventure.
Since my travel plans were unfolding around the same time as the news broke about Arizona’s controversial immigration legislation (Senate Bill 1070), I was hoping to gain some insight into the brouhaha from the state’s residents. Before I left, I invited friends and others to comment on the issue or suggest a question I might ask Arizonans during my brief visit to Mesa and the Grand Canyon.
The few emotional responses I received from well-meaning friends were disappointing. One woman said to ask if they would be passing out Klan hoods too. Another said the police could jail families mistakenly. One man compared the police asking for someone’s papers to checking if a person’s gun is registered. Someone else forwarded a link to horror stories claiming abuse of undocumented women and children, such as a Latina woman in Arizona who was allegedly jailed and held in chains while in labor.
As a researcher and a journalist, I was seeking a neutral probe that would elicit honest, thoughtful responses. Given my limited time and perhaps lack of imagination, I went with, “I’d like to know what you think about Arizona’s new immigration law.”
I soon discovered that most people, here and there, have a difficult time expressing their thoughts about the key points of the issue. Depending on their political leanings, their first instinct is to repeat various popular talking points being promulgated by the right or left wing media.
So far, I haven’t spoken with anyone who has actually read the legislation. It seems that when US Attorney General Eric Holder commented about the bill, he had not read the legislation either. But you can click this link if you’d like to read it. According to Section I of the document, this is the intent of the law:
“The legislature finds that there is a compelling interest in the cooperative enforcement of federal immigration laws throughout all of Arizona. The legislature declares that the intent of this act is to make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona. The provisions of this act are intended to work together to discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States.”
As it’s written, the intent doesn’t seem unreasonable or draconian. And the law simply requires enforcement of the federal law prohibiting people from being in the United States illegally. But Arizonans have stirred up some fierce controversy with their new immigration law.
It was shocking to discover that this issue is almost impossible to talk about rationally and calmly. Perhaps I was naive?
I talked with a few Caucasian Arizonans about the law, after I assured them I really wanted to know what they thought, and they were satisfied that I wasn’t laying a political trap for them. But when I tried to express their concerns to one sincere progressive friend, I couldn’t complete a sentence without her cutting me off with emotional responses about racial profiling and discrimination. This topic really pushes people’s buttons.
As I considered how to write about this hot topic, I realized that in many peoples’ view I couldn’t express what the Caucasian residents of Arizona had told me without being labeled a racist because I’m a Caucasian, natural born American citizen. And I find this deeply troubling.
Arizona has real problems with people crossing into the state illegally through its porous southern border with Mexico. Will concerned Americans ever be able to move beyond the talking points to honestly discuss the issues and propose some ethical solutions?
~N. Logsdon Mandelkorn