I was talking to one of my sister-friends today, and she shared with me that I probably wouldn’t see her again until June because she was going down to Arizona to spend Memorial Day with her family. Immediately I laughed and told her that unless she planned to take her birth certificate, license, passport, medical records and other identifying documentation, then I might not see her again. Period. To this we both had a hearty chuckle, but once she and I got off the line, I realized something. That exchange wasn’t very funny at all.
Although I suggested in jest that my friend be at the ready to prove her citizenship while in the “Grand Canyon State”, (even though she is not Hispanic and would hardly induce any suspicion into her supposed immigration status by Arizona po-po should she roll a stop sign), I couldn’t help but think about all the citizens of Arizona (this country) who are of Latin-descent who, thanks to Arizona SB 1070 have to now contemplate whether they are going to bring their “papers” with them just in case they find themselves lawfully stopped, detained or arrested on their way to work, school, or Pilates class (read: while trying to attain the American Dream, just like the rest of us).
Don’t get me wrong, I think immigration legislation is important. National borders are established to protect the land and inhabitants within, and the implications from the perspective of increased taxes, crime or even population surges can be quite calamitous if those borders are willingly allowed to be compromised. That’s not to say that I believe that this nation’s current immigration laws are acceptable in their current state.
I do believe that the images on shows like National Geographic’s “Border Wars” do highlight instances where people are simply seeking refuge and a better life than the squalor they’ve fled in Mexico, and should be afforded the right to pursue happiness here. I also believe however, that in much the same way that immigrants from all over the world have come to the United States to claim a better way of life for themselves legally, Mexican immigrants should be held to this same standard. My issue though, especially with this Senate Bill (and only slightly amended House Bill) is that it places a stigma on an entire group of people.
When Mexican President Felipe Calderon was given an audience at a joint session of Congress last week, he was openly critical of the Arizona law. Although I felt some kind of way about this guest’s rebuking manner and wished that I could’ve reminded President Calderon that he ought to tread lightly; seeing as how his abode is of the glassy variety, I can admit that this is a matter in which we find agreement. No matter what side of the volatile immigration debate you stand on, the fact (in my mind) remains that Arizona’s somewhat impetuous law breeds an unreasonable fear of and bias toward Latinos. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard people with a seemingly legitimate initial concern about illegal immigrants completely turn their conversation into a rant against Mexicans. Or, while waiting in line at a store, having seen people openly disgusted and rolling their eyes at a Hispanic family speaking together in Spanish while waiting at the check-out register. I worry that SB 1070 is emboldening a very discriminatory attitude toward Latinos as a whole; not just the ones who jumped the border fence or were smuggled in by strategically contorting themselves within the dashboard of a car (true story), but also those who are in the country legally or even born here.
I mean, look at this latest foolery with Dora the Explorer. No longer is she the ambiguous little character who teaches our children Spanish with a notable American accent and perfect English. Oh no! Thanks to someone’s attempt at humor (with a side of racism, I’m sure), poor Dora is now the face of the apprehended and extradited illegal immigrant, and I’m now left explaining to my kids why Boots’ best friend has an eye-jammy, a leaky faucet and a mug shot.
Trust me when I tell you; I don’t pretend to know the answers to solve this nation’s immigration debate or how best to reform the broken laws we currently have in place. What I do know however, is that too few of the billions of people who currently live in the United States are indigenous to this land. At some point in our histories, we were all immigrants. What changed that made settling here acceptable for some, but relocating, migrating and seeking sanctuary here not tolerable for others?