Opposing the “Circle-the-Wagons” Mentality in Arizona

Enraged protest and threats of boycott are resulting due to Arizona’s controversial immigration legislation that gives the police the right to question citizens based solely on suspicion.

In January 1986, when Martin Luther King Day was proclaimed a national holiday by the Reagan administration, the state of Arizona unilaterally refused to recognize the declaration. The state refused to give in until the external pressure of canceled conferences and athletic events brought on by boycotts became too much. When tourism began to noticeably suffer, the southwestern state finally fell into line.

Blanket Exception for Police Brutality

A certain stubborn streak in Arizona’s citizens can’t be denied, and it’s not just coincidence that their senator, John McCain, has long groomed his public image as a perennial Washington outsider. Once a champion of immigrant’s rights, he now has to fight for reelection and finds he has tumbled into a controversy that divides the entire nation.

With a kind of “circle-the-wagons” mentality, the Republican-dominated state of Arizona has instituted the most restrictive legislation in the nation to combat illegal immigration. The instigator was Republican hard-liner and former Chief Deputy Sheriff of Maricopa County, Russell Pearce, who has been the bane of the “illegals” ever since he and his son were shot in the line of duty.

The new legislation gives police full power to stop and question citizens based solely on suspicion. If later found guilty of being illegally in the country, arrestees face 6 months in prison and a $2,500 fine. It’s designed to be a deterrent to illegal immigration, mushrooming crime and increased drug smuggling. Estimates of illegal immigrants residing in Arizona range up to nearly 500,000, with the Mexican border serving as the main gateway for immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

As in many other U.S. border states, Hispanics make up a cheap labor force that helps keep the U.S. economy going. They work mainly as gardeners and domestics, handymen and farm workers. Meanwhile, Arizonans complain of rampant crime, and the murder of a prominent rancher has since stoked the debate.

Civil rights organizations have become involved and have called for massive demonstrations this coming weekend. The Latino community, America’s fastest growing minority, has enlisted the help of prominent personalities such as pop star Shakira. Critics of the law are calling it latent racism, hate speech and a blanket dispensation for police brutality. Robert Creamer even said, “The Arizona of 2010 is the Alabama of 1963,” in reference to the persecution of blacks living in the American South. Roger Mahoney, Cardinal of Los Angeles, said it even reminded him of methods used by the Nazis.

Now It’s Obama’s Move

Arizona is again threatened by a wave of boycotts and lawsuits. As Texas begins flirting with similar legislation, opponents are collecting signatures to get a referendum on the ballot in order to stop it. The Justice Department in Washington is currently looking into whether the Arizona legislation is even constitutional, since the federal government is responsible for immigration legislation and not the individual states.

Now it’s President Obama’s move. He stands by promises he made to his Latino constituency. His predecessor George W. Bush’s attempt to get new immigration legislation through Congress was derailed by his own Republican friends, and now Obama says he doubts such legislation is possible, especially in an election year.

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