Arizona: The Land of the Free or the Home of Bigotry?

by Anna Volovik

The inscription on the second floor of the Statue of liberty reads:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Unfortunately, as these “tired and poor” settled in, they have forgotten where they came from. Almost 50 years since the Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech and two years into the first United States presidency by an African American, Arizona is trying to stem the achievements of human rights supporters. It is clear that Arizona does not want anyone’s “huddled masses,” “wretched refuse,” “homeless,” or “tempest-tossed,” no matter what they yearn for.

Last Friday the Arizona governor Jan Brewer, signed what is deemed to be the toughest “illegal immigration” bill, into law. Under the new law, failure to carry immigration documents becomes a crime and gives the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. So on what grounds can a person be stopped on the street? How is a police officer to decide whom to ask about his or her immigration status? Those who seem foreign? Or is there is a definition on how “illegal immigrants” should look like? The potential impact on basic human rights is huge. The law should enrage those who care about human rights and freedoms. It should embarrass anybody who considers himself or herself a real American, since it authorizes bigotry and bigotry is not a real American value. In my opinion, this is an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against any immigrants regardless of their citizenship status.

I will be the first to admit that something should be done about illegal immigration to this country, but this is not it! After all, immigration is what this country is built on; it is one of the founding myths of American society. Myth here refers not to something unreal, but rather to the stories that we tell ourselves, to make sense of ourselves, who we are as a people, and the diffusion of that understanding to the world. Yet, we are also a society that tends to hate the immigrants, their foreignness, their different languages and customs. This tension between love and hate, between being an immigrant society but profoundly suspicious and intolerant of actual immigrants, supports the myth itself, and turns immigration into an opportunity to more deeply understand American society, and its core senses of self.

Today’s “illegal” must be contrasted with past actions of illegality on the part of American settlers in stealing land and obtaining territory. The long and complicated political and social history between the United States and other countries structures the flow of migrants to the United States, whose labor is essential in this country. Undocumented workers may be here without papers, but their labor contributes to the high standard of living in the United States. Understanding that undocumented migrants have multiple reasons for coming to the United States helps to complicate our understanding of their presence in our society. Undocumented migration does not just ‘happen,’ but happens for specific historic, economic, and political reasons, in which the United States is implicated.

I believe that foundation of freedom and justice was impacted with the legislature of this law, as it promotes inequality. This law will put more added pressure on the already heavily burdened police officers. In addition, this new law is going to create the same money draining problems as the rest of the similar misguided legislature. The money will be spent for detaining and jailing the “illegals.” It will draw police attention away from real crime and create law suits as this law is a violation of human rights.

My only hope is that this new law will serve as point of unification of people who feel strongly on this issue and the creation of a real legislature that deals with immigration on a Federal level.


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