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Le Monde, France

Arizona: A Police State?


By Francois Vergniolle de Chantal

Translated By Theresa Borden

12 May 2010

Edited by Jes­sica Boesl


France - Le Monde - Original Article (French)

The immigration debate has fired up again in the United States in an impressive way: Faced with a lack of national initiative and an increasing fear in the southwest of losing control of the Mexican border, the Republican governor, Jan Brewer, signed the final version of S.B. 1070 on April 30, 2010. The law will enter into force this summer. This law gave rise to a phenomenal scandal across the Atlantic. Barack Obama himself gave his opinion on the matter, declaring that it put into question the tradition of American liberty, and threatens the relationship between citizens and the police. Protests have increased across the country, as have calls for economic boycotts. Mexico even officially advised its citizens to leave Arizona. So how did this law end up deserving not only a presidential rebuff, but also such national and international attention?

An AFP dispatch presented the law by stating that it “strengthened” the legal mechanism against illegal aliens. But the generality of the statement hides an interesting comparison. This law effectively permits any police officer in the state of Arizona to ask for residency papers from any person who might be an illegal alien (the text evokes “reasonable suspicion”) — the estimate of such aliens in Arizona is at around 450,000 people.

The shock that this elicits in America is perfectly understandable. As a nation of immigrants, Americans are particularly sensitive to the issue. The first laws that created a general framework to control immigration date from the start of the 1920s. Before 1921, the country was largely open, even though states each had their own laws and the federal government intervened occasionally — for example, against Asian immigration in 1882. Moreover, the Civil Rights Movement that swept across America forty years later gave the race question an almost untouchable status. Any frontal attack based on racial prejudices is sure to bring about extremely strong reactions, easily calling to mind the discriminatory past of America. The statement is even more important in an America that elected an African-American president who, while a senator for Illinois, was strongly dedicated to fighting discrimination.

In this context, a law like the one adopted by Arizona is explosive. The scandal exists not only with regard to the result, but also with regard to the criteria for verification. Hispanic groups have rightfully highlighted that the law allows ethnic profiling that will result in American citizens of Hispanic origin — and not only illegal aliens — being forcibly detained to have their citizenship verified by the police.

Arizona is the only state to have made this decision. It brings to the fore the inability of the federal government to act on the national level, while surveys indicate regularly that public opinion is in favor of immigration reform. In 2007, in spite of the support of President G.W. Bush, a proposal failed in the Senate. Compromise satisfied no one. The right refused to extend any form of amnesty to illegal aliens — the numbers circulating in the media range from 10 to 12 million people — who have not respected the law. As for the left, it refused security measures at the Mexican border. Thus, the problem remains unanswered.

Amalgamation of Security and Immigration

The legislative setting inherited from 1965 has been continually contested by everyone, yet no new consensus has emerged to replace it. Until recently, Obama did not seem to have strong enough encouragement to act. Health care reform in March and current negotiations on financial regulation and on climate change have left little room for other debates.

Not only are congressional elections coming up, but also, Democrats and Republicans are extremely divided on the issue. In such circumstances, immigration is dealt with from the simplest angle, from which a consensus is the easiest: security. In 2006, Congress adopted a law to build a wall on the Mexican border. And in 2002, at the time of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the government body responsible for immigration control, the INS, was integrated into this new department, and in so doing, left the Department of Justice. Since then, the amalgamation of security and immigration has been official.

Scandalous? In the United States, without a doubt. But not in Europe and, notably, not in France, where any police officer can ask anyone on the street for their papers at any time. And, traditionally, our department of the interior includes both police management and the control of immigration. It is very revealing to see that the French media is not relaying any of the debate that is currently raging in the United States over immigration. American news, seen from France, is summarized by the oil spill in Louisiana, to be understood as one more catastrophe in this country of excess, and by the difficulties of financial form, to be understood as that those in power are having a hard time fixing all the wrongs of Wall Street.

As is often the case, it is easier to criticize the United States with an implicit innuendo that the situation in Europe is clearly superior. On the other hand, a debate like the one surrounding the law in Arizona remains strangely absent. I cannot help but see this as one more example of the abundance of transatlantic prejudices. Regarding this particular point, the Americans have an extremely healthy debate, illustrative of the democratic vitality of their country in refusing any abusive augmentation of police power. At least this time, America seems to be in a position to teach us a lesson. It is rather saddening to see the French media putting aside information that, by putting the United States in a good light, casts France in a negative one.



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4 Responses to “Arizona: A Police State?”

  1.  Vote: Add rating 1  Subtract rating 0   MBee Says:

    The fol­low­ing is an email from an Arizonan…You may be sur­prised at the truth. You’ll never red it in the MSM.
    .….….….….….….….….….….……

    Hi all,

    Well, we Ari­zo­nans are cer­tainly in the news these days. Couldn’t get any media’s atten­tion for years, as we strug­gled with our myr­iad prob­lems with the drug wars and ille­gal immi­grant issues became increas­ingly des­per­ate. But now that we’ve passed an enforce­ment law, all the net­works and night talk show hosts and hol­ly­wood types are com­ing out of the woodwork.

    Just to set a few things straight–which you will NOT see or hear in the media:

    * As I e-mailed ear­lier, 72 per­cent of ALL adult Ari­zo­nans sup­port this new law. We are not racist, and we are not big­ots. We are in crisis.

    * Between 60 and 63 per­cent (depend­ing on the poll) of legal His­pan­ics in Ari­zona sup­port this new law (they are equally offended and endan­gered by ille­gal immigration–violence and taxes and com­pro­mised schools and closed hos­pi­tals know no skin color!) One His­panic gen­tle­man in Phoenix said he waited 11 years to legally enter the U.S., and said in a T.V. inter­view, “We are being over­run, and our way of life is being threat­ened.” No shit!!!!!!!

    * Do not believe what you see on the national news about this law. It does NOT give law enforce­ment the right to pull any­one over because they “look His­panic.” It does NOT give law enforce­ment the right to just look at some­one and ask for papers. There has to be a “law­ful rea­son” for stop­ping them in the first place, and THEN and only then, if the offi­cer sus­pects they may be illegal–based on cri­te­ria already used by ICE–they can ask for legal sta­tus iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. Do not believe this garbage you hear every day on T.V. It is not a “police state” statute.

    * On April 26th evening local Tuc­son news, news teams from Tuc­son went down to Nogales Mexico–across the border–and decided to ran­domly inter­view the first 6 peo­ple they ran into on the neigh­bor­hood streets. They promised not to edit, pick and choose, or what­ever. Local media is pretty neu­tral, but per­haps more sym­pa­thetic with the pro­test­ers. I think they fully expected out­rage across the bor­der. Five of the first six Mex­i­can cit­i­zens they first encoun­tered and inter­viewed sup­port this bill. They see no prob­lem with it. They said the U.S. has the right to find and deport ille­gals of any nationality–it is our coun­try. They said that they have to carry iden­ti­fi­ca­tion papers all the time in Mex­ico! One gen­tle­man teaches half time in a Nogales high school and half time across the bor­der in a U.S. high school. He said he has been car­ry­ing and show­ing his papers every day for years, includ­ing being asked by the non-border Mex­i­can police for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. He sees no big deal and is embar­rassed by the hoopla from Mex­i­cans in the U.S. He said it “makes us all look bad.”

    * Five other states have already con­tacted Ari­zona law­mak­ers (Utah, Okla­homa, Iowa among them) to help them draft sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion. I think many many states have wanted to do this, for the same rea­sons we Ari­zo­nans did, but were scared silly of appear­ing what Ari­zona is being called–racist, big­oted, etc. etc.)

    If you look at the demon­stra­tors, notice their gen­eral age group–high school and col­lege stu­dents mainly. Why them??? For one thing, in Ari­zona and other states, His­pan­ics, legal or ille­gal, pay in-state tuition, regard­less of where they are from. Also, there are spe­cial set-aside funds reserved for His­pan­ics (pri­mar­ily from Latino sup­port orga­ni­za­tions), and for non whites in gen­eral (gen­eral funds). They are get­ting a much bet­ter deal than cit­i­zen students–many a free ride. So why wouldn’t they demon­strate, if this bill threat­ens to deport them? The high school stu­dents are all friends. Good for them. But they are just kids insu­lated from the eco­nomic and social real­i­ties of the sit­u­a­tion. One Mex­i­can high school girl in tears was put on national media (of course), and she said, “Half of every­one in my high school is ille­gal. Now they are threat­en­ing to split us up and maybe deport half of us.” Can you believe this?? She believes that this kind of state­ment should gar­ner sympathy–and per­haps does, nation­ally. We think it clar­i­fies an alarm­ing fact of life down here. Ari­zona is over three bil­lion dol­lars in debt. Objec­tive esti­mates sug­gest that nearly 30 per­cent of that is due to unre­im­bursed edu­ca­tion of ille­gal kids. It is a lovely intent. Esti­mates are that approx­i­mately 2/3 of our state deficit is linked to costs of the ille­gal pop­u­la­tion. We are broke and des­per­ate!! 13 state parks have per­ma­nently closed. Most high­way rest stops are shut­tered. Our state sales tax is prob­a­bly going to 7.6 per­cent this sum­mer. Roads are in dis­re­pair. Three Tuc­son hos­pi­tals have com­pletely closed within the past 5 years. Tuc­son police and Pima coun­try sheriff’s depart­ments are lay­ing off law enforce­ment offi­cers dur­ing a dra­matic increase in vio­lence. It is not fair for the rest of the coun­try to not have to help us pay for this out­lay when the fed­eral gov­ern­ment won’t seri­ously lift a fin­ger to stop this cri­sis. It shouldn’t fall so dis­pro­por­tion­ately on the few. When each of the states have to divvy up tens of mil­lions of dol­lars each year to help the bor­der states edu­cate and deal with ille­gals, then we can also be high-minded about doing good for all God’s children.

    I know this sounds like a rant. But watch­ing the national media, day after day, one gets such a dis­torted view of what the law actu­ally says (it is on the net, by the way), and how the pop­u­la­tion here and else­where really feel about it. It makes us crazy. The pro­test­ers get all the media time. Just had to try to present “the other side of the story.”

  2.  Vote: Add rating 1  Subtract rating 0   Scortch Says:

    First, we are not a “coun­try of excess”. Most Amer­i­cans are liv­ing pay­check to pay­check, with most of the GDP in the hands of about 10% to 20% of the pop­u­la­tion. We do not live like kings & queens.
    sec­ondly, what most of you in France take for granted is not guar­an­teed to cit­i­zens in the U.S…I, for instance, have no health insur­ance. I have been denied the abil­ity to buy it, by the only real “death pan­els” we have in the States, insur­ance CEO’s. If I become seri­ously ill or injured, my only two choices are bank­ruptcy or death, and as I will not leave my wife des­ti­tute, death is the only choice remaining…no French cit­i­zen has to make a choice like this, and I admire the way you care for your injured on a nation­wide basis, while here we are sim­ply on our own, or frac­tured into groups.
    As for the immi­gra­tion prob­lem in the U.S., you must not believe that you hear from U.S. news sources, as they are all cor­po­rate con­trolled. The Ari­zona law does not allow for ran­dom stops or searches of any­one who may look His­panic. It allows for a back­ground check of any­one stopped for a vio­la­tion of the law, and it sim­ply requires proof of legal sta­tus, a green card or visa (which you are already required to carry), or proof of cit­i­zen­ship, which can be noth­ing more than a driver’s license issued in the U.S.
    It’s sad that Ari­zona feels it has to enact such a mea­sure, but the fault ulti­mately lies with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, as they obsti­nately refuse to enforce bor­der secu­rity, and have refused to increase the fines & penal­ties for know­ingly hir­ing an ille­gal invader to the point where the penal­ties would con­sti­tute a seri­ous deter­rent.
    As for amnesty for ille­gals, we have done that at least 3 times in my life, and each time with assur­ances that the bor­der would be secured if the amnesty were passed…the bor­der has never been secured, and in every instance of amnesty, more ille­gals pour across the bor­der to take the place of the newly-made cit­i­zens. It is sim­ply a scam aimed at the vot­ers.
    We don’t care if any­one immi­grates to the U.S., in fact, we wel­come you…but we are a sov­er­eign coun­try, with the right to refuse cit­i­zen­ship to those with crim­i­nal back­grounds, and the right to con­trol our population…and I, for one, do not like the idea of becom­ing a coun­try so pop­u­lous that indi­vid­u­als become cheap­ened & eas­ily replaceable…this idea may be entic­ing to cor­po­ra­tions, but not to the cit­i­zenry at large.

  3.  Vote: Add rating 0  Subtract rating 0   ormondotvos Says:

    Well-written arti­cle, but it skates over what I feel is the under­ly­ing rea­son for the uproar, which is the pecu­liar sen­si­tiv­ity aver­age Amer­i­cans have about their behavior.

    You are cor­rect when you call the USA a nation of excess. The pre­vi­ous com­menter objects, and pre­tends that being on the eco­nomic decline demon­strates we are not fond of excess, but the slide into poverty is exactly caused by the excesses allowed to finan­cial cor­po­ra­tions in the destruc­tively com­pet­i­tive fight for per­sonal wealth by both offi­cers and stock­hold­ers, devil take the hind­most, who include the commenter.

    The real excess is the glib Amer­i­can excep­tion­al­ism, which may not be sup­port­able in the view of non-Americans, but has never wavered, and is still being exploited even by Obama, who is locked into by his very real­is­tic fear that the coun­try will turn on him in their panic at the inevitable prospect of a large drop in their ENERGY AND MATERIALS stan­dard of living.

    Amer­i­cans have been trained by their run­away adver­tis­ers to require excess in order to achieve per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion with their life, and now they must be retrained to be restrained in their use of energy and materials.

    We shall see if it is pos­si­ble, but it’s the real thing to watch, and the Inter­net, with its end­less mind-teasers, will likely be how Amer­ica learns to enjoy its mind, instead of end­less thrills from travel, speed and bulk in their houses, cars and enter­tain­ments. The age of Hum­mers, McMan­sions and cross-country trips to the Other Dis­ney­worlds and rel­a­tives has to stop. How fast we can achieve this will decide the fate of the world.

  4.  Vote: Add rating 0  Subtract rating 0   Scortch Says:

    An inter­est­ing lit­tle update. The pres­i­dent of Mex­ico was being inter­viewed on Wolf Blitzer (a nation­ally broad­cast inter­view show) and expressed con­cern over the Ari­zona law. In the very same inter­view, he admit­ted that vis­i­tors to Mex­ico must present their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion & carry papers which must be pre­sented to author­i­ties on demand. If they are found to be in Mex­ico ille­gally, they are deported.

    Also, under Mex­i­can law, if you are caught work­ing with­out the proper papers, you can be arrested & jailed.

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