We Are All Arizona!


"Don't say in Arizona,
No bigots have you met;
The ones who passed this racist law
are the biggest bigots yet!
(Everybody now!) Which side are you on, now?
Which side are you on?"

[chant] "Jim Crow Two-Point-Oh,
Racist laws have got to go!"

As this article is being written dozens of May Day demonstrations are taking place in more than seventy cities and towns around the country. Hundreds of thousands are marching in opposition to Arizona's new "Jim Crow 2.0" anti-immigrant law. The measure, Arizona SB 1070, orders state and local law enforcement agencies to strike out at foreign-born (or foreign-appearing) workers, mainly Latinos, with an iron fist when their only crime is breathing the state's air without some Federal bureaucrat's permission to do so. The new measure, which has been signed by the state's governor but is not yet fully in effect, was rammed through the state legislative process by the very same ultra-right-wing Republicans who loudly trumpet the values of "less government, less bureaucracy, and more individual freedom," values which appear to apply only if one is rich, English-speaking and have the luck to be born on the right side of the border.

The new law parades under the pompous and spectacularly deceptive title of, "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act," pandering to an exaggerated public fear of crime and violence that has been puffed up by talk-show hosts and right-wing media outlets. English-speaking Arizona voters (many of them elderly, sun-seeking retirees from other states, prosperous suburban professionals and conservative, rural ranchers) are being panicked by a barrage of scare-tactic media fairy-tales about supposed inherent Latino criminality, even though El Paso, Texas, a nearby large border city boasting of a 75 percent Latino population, is currently the second-safest large city in the nation. Arizona's English-speaking workers are being invited to blame foreign-born newcomers for the economic and jobs crisis that capitalism's Great Recession is inflicting on their state, while Spanish-speaking workers are led to blame Anglos for their plight, instead of bosses, speculators and Wall Street scammers. It comes as little surprise that, outside of the mining industry, the state has one of the nation's lowest rates of worker unionization.


SB 1070 declares "unauthorized" people to be criminal trespassers, intruders in their own homes, businesses and workplaces, or anywhere else in their state where they may have grown up, went to school, lived, worked and paid rent, mortgage or taxes for years.

In a sick rhetorical perversion of the language of human rights advocacy, under section 13-2929 of this law anyone who knowingly or negligently transports an undocumented person (a friend, an employer, on a date, picking up a hitchhiker, or even an ambulance or school bus driver) can potentially be convicted of "human smuggling," a type of charge last widely applied in this country against the heroes of the slavery-era "Underground Railroad."

Under the law, any vehicle used to transport an undocumented person as a passenger, even on the way to the hospital or while fleeing from the state, can be seized, impounded and sold. Knowingly "harboring" an undocumented infant in a day care center or kindergarten, or welcoming an undocumented adult to a church service, as a tenant, roommate, house-guest or lover, as a customer in a restaurant or as a guest at a birthday party is potentially punishable by fines up to $1000. Even free speech is muzzled: the very act of verbally "encouraging" unauthorized persons to enter Arizona (even from another American state!) is now a punishable misdemeanor with fines of up to $1000, although exactly why anyone would encourage someone else to enter a police-state like that established by SB 1070 is difficult to imagine.

And just in case any conscientious local or municipal authority wishes to abstain from the whole evil farce, private individuals are specifically authorized and encouraged to file nuisance lawsuits against public entities that are not enthusiastic enough in enforcing the provisions of this racist law. (Just imagine if uninvolved members of the pubic were empowered and encouraged to sue the Mine Safety Administration for not enforcing worker safety laws in the nation's coal mines!)


Activists and demonstrators have denounced this new law as twenty-first century Jim Crow, referring to the viciously racist local and state legal codes designed to enforce peonage and second-class citizenship on African Americans in southern states from the end of Reconstruction until the victory of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's. However, some have pointed out that SB 1070 is actually significantly worse than most of the old South's Black Codes, and has stronger similarities to certain pre-Civil War fugitive slave laws, to old South African apartheid laws, or even to the genocidal anti-Jewish laws of Hitler's Third Reich.

Materially strengthening accusations of naked racism, a nonpartisan Pew Research Center survey coincidentally released barely two days before the May Day demonstrations shows that most Americans now feel Latinos suffer worse discrimination than any other group. When polled in November, 2009, "nearly one-in-four (23%) Americans said Hispanics are discriminated against ‘a lot' in society today, a share higher than observed for any other group." According to the Pew Center report, "This represents a change from 2001, when [B]lacks were seen as the racial/ethnic group discriminated against the most in society. Then, one-in-four (25%) Americans said [B]lacks were discriminated against ‘a lot,' while 19% said the same about Hispanics."

Earlier, a Pew survey found in 2007 that "64% of Latino adults identified discrimination against Hispanics in schools as a major problem and 58 percent of Latino adults said the same about the workplace." And, in a poll a year later, "Fewer than half of Latinos [said] they are confident that police officers in their community treat Hispanics fairly," in contrast to the 74% of non-Latino whites who expressed confidence that police act equitably. In the same survey, 81% of Latino adults surveyed agreed that local police should keep strictly out of immigration issues.

Although pollsters now report that the American public is almost evenly divided over the Arizona law, the state's action has generated a firestorm of rejection from forces across the political spectrum. The Obama administration is considering a legal challenge to the new law, and a number of suits have already been filed to block its enforcement and challenge its provisions on constitutional grounds. Condemnation of the bill's draconian provisions has been virtually unanimous among mainstream religious leaders in Arizona and around the nation, and immigrant advocates and civil rights leaders across the United States have voiced strong opposition.

What is more, opposition to the racist measure has not been limited to left, liberal and moderate voices. During the last week key neoconservative fundraiser and politico Karl Rove, right-wing Texas governor Rick Perry, former Florida governor Jeb Bush (brother of former president George W. Bush), and even the brutal ultra-right regime in Honduras have all publicly indicated their disapproval of the measure. The government of Mexico has issued a strong travel advisory for its citizens to avoid travelling to Arizona, and Honduran de facto authorities warned on April 28 that "the Law SB1070, which classifies immigration as a crime in the state of Arizona, is a wrong step, and it does not offer right solutions for the immigration issue."


While brushing aside mass national opposition as "political theater," legislative supporters of the law have already yielded slightly to public pressure by supposedly prohibiting "racial profiling" in the measure's enforcement. No hint is offered on how Arizona law enforcement personnel are supposed to be able to identify foreigners on sight without racial and ethnic profiling (By a suspect's thick brogue? Perhaps by the smell of corned beef and cabbage, crepes suzette or mealie meal on the suspect's breath?), but already several Arizona law-enforcement officers have filed suit against the amended law, objecting that they are being placed in the absurd, untenable position of being sued if they enforce its provisions, and sued if they don't. An op-ed columnist for the conservative Arizona Republic newspaper semi-seriously suggested that walking a Chihuahua dog may now constitute "probable cause" for arrest and interrogation in his state.

Several major cities around the nation have already enacted official travel bans to Arizona, and protests have greeted the Arizona Diamondback baseball team, whose owners provide major financial support for right-wing causes in that state. MLBPA [the Major League Baseball Players Association], the labor union representing big league ball players, has condemned the law as being against the interests of its members, many of whom are Latino. Meanwhile, other civic, political and fan groups around the country have begun exerting strong pressure to move the 2011 Major League All Star baseball game out of Arizona.

Even as giant mass demonstrations take place across the country, activists have been discussing possible further responses, some hearkening back to the ‘60's Civil Rights Movement. There are reports of demonstrators in Arizona wearing "I am an illegal alien" tee-shirts (with a picture of a bug-eyed, gray space-alien), while a few more serious activists are starting to discuss "Freedom Rides," nonviolent sit-ins, economic boycotts, civil disobedience and even a nationwide campaign of peaceful, nonviolent resistance if Jim Crow is resurrected in Arizona.


Last year the Pew Center estimated that as many as 10% of Arizona's workers, more than five hundred thousand, lacked documents. In the unlikely event legal challenges and preliminary protest efforts fail and this horrendous law is allowed to go into full effect, we could conceivably be confronted with the urgent task of aiding and abetting half a million men, women, and children to safely escape from "Fortress Arizona" to neighboring free states, or else put ourselves and our personal freedom on the line to defend them in place. It is impossible even to speculate what form such a hypothetical struggle could eventually take, whether it would be like the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960's, something closer to the Underground Railroad of the 1840's and 50's, or even something completely new to America.

Yet it is not beyond the scope of fevered imagination to ask: As a progressive, would you be willing to be a station-master on some new underground railroad? What about a conductor? A financier? A scheduler, communicator, lookout, or driver? Would you be ready to put your beliefs on the line? If you live in a free state, would you be willing to host refugees from the Arizona tragedy under your own roof?

More importantly, how much are you willing to work and sacrifice right now in order to ensure such a situation never comes to pass?


There seems to be superficial agreement between right, center and left political forces that America's immigration system is "broken," and that issues that sparked SB 1070 in Arizona must ultimately be resolved at the Federal level. Millions and millions of America's foreign-born workers live every day in permanent legal and personal jeopardy. These decent working people are left with no possible avenue for obeying the law short of death or deportation (which in many cases signifies the same thing). Whenever decent people are driven to desperation, no good result can be expected. Such a reality drives down wages and undermines the rights and safety of all workers, locals as well as newcomers. Even from an honest conservative viewpoint, maintaining a "Catch 22" situation where individuals cannot comply with the law no matter what they do, makes a joke of America's claim to be a "state of laws," and deliberately denying a significant sector of the population most of the possible benefits of the free market system ensures discontent, anger and instability.

However, one cannot assume that all those who pushed this law are honest conservatives. Some of these are merely opportunists or Republican Party hacks, but many of the law's most outspoken supporters are, to put it plainly, bigots: racists in the most despicable tradition of Jeff Davis, Theodore Bilbo, Ross Barnett and George Wallace. Today, the overwhelming majority of Americans reject racism, so progressives' task must be that of transforming people's gut repugnance for the sheer inhumanity of raw, stinking racism into active, material, nonviolent resistance, just as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did in his day.


"Real immigration reform now!" is a demand that is already supported by broad masses of Americans of virtually all backgrounds and political views. However, will strengthened demands for immigration reform lead to national police-state measures like SB 1070, or to a real solution? Almost everything depends on upcoming elections and the balance of power in Washington, but there are immediate actions that the Obama administration can take now right now to ease the terrible situation faced by America's foreign-born workers and to proactively preempt anyone who might seek to impose future immigrant-hating laws in other states or at the Federal level.

The first and most obvious action required to disarm the poisonous pseudo-populist race-hatred that drives measures like HB 1070 would be a national jobs program to guarantee decent employment at union wages for anyone who wants to work, and adequate social benefits for those who can't. This needs to be "priority one" for anyone who really wants to fight the sinister forces that always seem to slither out of their dens whenever jobs are scarce, times are hard, and people are looking for someone to blame.
However, another important practical step that might well be taken with the stroke of a pen by Executive Order would be to retroactively extend the "Wet Foot-Dry Foot" policy currently applied to undocumented Cubans, in order to make it cover other economic and political refugees who are crossing or have crossed our land borders.

As background for such a decision, the Pew Center estimated in 2008 that some 94% of undocumented workers in Arizona are Mexican nationals, people whose homeland is at this moment in the throes of a violent drug-war that has cost over 20,000 lives, without any near-term prospects for peace in sight. Many of the killings in Mexico have been politically-motivated executions. This horrifying situation, just as much as poverty and joblessness, is what is driving waves of immigration from our neighboring country, and what makes the whole idea of deporting millions of Mexican workers from the United States as inhuman as it is ludicrously impractical. Even U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has recently suspended deportations over the bridges to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, due to extreme levels of violence in that border city.

In stark contrast, Cuba has been completely at peace for over four decades. The right-wing's arch-demon, ex-president and Cuban national hero Fidel Castro, is now retired and disabled, and the only true political prisoners left on the island are those languishing in U.S. concentration cells at Guantanamo. The last political execution anywhere in Cuba took place before most present-day Americans were born.

In 2010 virtually no one in the United States still believes in the big, bad bogeyman of "Communist tyranny" in Cuba, save a small core of older-generation Cuban-American expatriates in Miami. These irredentists retain such disproportionate political power in the "swing state" of Florida and at the national level that it is unrealistic to consider a change of U.S. immigration policy toward Cuba in the foreseeable future. However, this situation can easily be leveraged to positive advantage if the existing humanitarian policy toward undocumented Cubans (that spontaneous immigration should be actively interdicted, but that those who manage to make it here or are already here are legally protected), is continued and extended. Such a policy now seems to be vastly more appropriate for today's terrorized Mexican war refugees, and earthquake-ravaged Haitians than it ever was for Cuban rafters who are merely upset with their country's socialist system.

Of course, any executive or legislative action extending "Wet-Foot, Dry Foot" to immigrants from across America's land borders would meet immediate and fierce opposition from the same shameless racists who are terrified of the day (which will soon arrive with or without immigration reform) when white, English-speaking Protestants and other people of northern European descent will no longer be a majority in this country.


America's best traditions, those of being a "land of freedom," a "beacon of refuge" for people fleeing poverty, war, violence and oppression, are values treasured by an overwhelming majority of Americans regardless of color, creed, language or national origins. The hour has come for all Communists and progressives to use our organizing skills, discipline, courage, unity and unshakeable commitment to "freedom or death" to help draw our nation into a sustained, focused ideological and material struggle against the racism, xenophobia and right-wing fanaticism that are responsible for SB 1070. Our tactics must run the gamut from talking, writing and singing, to organizing, petitioning, demonstrating and generating street heat, to contingency planning for the worst.

Of course, it is important not to panic or to overestimate the strength of the forces arrayed against us. As legal challenges and popular repudiation gain strength, the real chances that this bizarre and vindictive law will actually be enforced as written become less and less. Hopefully, this entire episode will soon end up as shameful footnote in the history books, a final, desperate death-rattle from the dying throat of American white supremacy. But whatever may be the immediate fate of SB 1070, now is the time for sincere liberals, religious and community leaders, civil rights activists and decent non-racists of every stripe, conservatives and moderates, libertarians and leftists, young and old, women and men, Black, bronze and white, to unite to smash Jim Crow in Arizona, or anywhere else it tries to rise from its grave. ¡No pasarán!

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/marineperez/ / CC BY 2.0

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