I arrived at the Phoenix airport around noon in mid-May from a much cooler, rainy Maryland. The hot, dry front line in America’s uproarious flame war over immigration was surprisingly quiet. The streets were nearly empty– most likely because the locals have enough sense to avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day.
This was the first time I’d flown into Phoenix. Previously, I’d only passed through the state on a couple of car trips to and from California many years ago. The half-hour light rail ride to Mesa gave me some time to survey the ocher landscape. Arizona’s climate and topography are so different from the Midwest and mid-Atlantic states where I’ve lived most of my life.
The limited water supply and lack of green vegetation would keep me from relocating. But, I reasoned, longtime Arizonans must be acclimated to this rugged place and love the arid zone they call home. To me, it seemed desolate and impoverished with trailer parks and derelict strip malls lining the main street. Census stats show about 60 percent of the population is Caucasian and 20 percent is Hispanic/Latino, and Phoenix is located in the state’s most densely populated county.
Many residents are seasonal, like my cousin, spending their winters in Arizona retirement communities with thousands of other retirees who want to escape the wintry weather of other regions. Then there are the approximate eight percent of Arizona residents who are estimated to be in the United States illegally and who are at the center of this growing political firestorm.
Since I had to go to Arizona to help my cousin drive to Ohio, I thought this would be great chance to get a sense of the people who have chosen to make this state their home. And I was curious to hear what Arizonans were saying about the controversial SB1070 immigration legislation.
Getting past the left and right wing talking points was a challenge. Given the tiny sample of people I talked to and the limited amount of time I spent in the state, I realize that my commentary is anecdotal and speculative. Yet my brief visit did give me a lot of material to consider as well as suggest areas for more research and reflection.
The opinions I heard fell along ethnic lines. Caucasian Arizonans supported the legislation and Latino Arizonans were against it. However, both groups acknowledged that there were problems with the influx of undocumented immigrants and crime from across the Mexican border, and they agreed that Arizona needs to improve its border patrols.
Their ideas about possible solutions to the problem is where they parted ways. In Arizona and throughout America, immigration has become a broiling issue.
Thousands poured into Phoenix this weekend both to protest and to support the legislation. People from all corners of the country are calling for boycotts or buycotts. There are several legal challenges to the constitutionality of SB1070 in the court system already, and the law doesn’t go into effect until the end of July.
President Obama ordered 1,200 National Guard troops deployed to the US-Mexico border to help patrol. Some are calling this a purely political move; others are saying it’s not enough. Senate Democrats unveiled a proposal for immigration reform; Republican leaders promplty vowed to block any attempt at reform.
According to an April 29 article in the Washington Post, the proposal “…emphasizes first taking steps to limit illegal immigration before offering new rights for those here illegally. But the REPAIR (Real Enforcement with Practical Answers for Immigration Reform) proposal, as Democrats dubbed it, also would create a pathway to legal status for an estimated 10.8 million people who are already in the country illegally, an idea opposed by many conservatives.”
Also noted in the article: Obama called the proposal “a very important step in the process of fixing out nation’s broken immigration system.”
A cynical question I often remind myself to consider in such situations is, “Who stands to profit?” Immigration reform seems like an obvious, just and humane solution. If multinational corporations can move their assets around at will, why can’t workers enjoy that same flexibility of location?
If we start to pull on the thread of corporate culpability, I think we will likely unravel the cause and effect of America’s unfolding immigration crisis. But as long as we are fighting among ourselves over increasingly scarce resources, we won’t join forces and make systemic changes to the way they do business.
~N. Logsdon Mandelkorn