Fear of the Desert Aliens

In Arizona, immigration papers will be checked solely on suspicion; in Nebraska, undocumented immigrants are not allowed to rent a dwelling.

Obama still owes the nation an immigration reform policy.

Joe Arpaio is proud to be known as “America’s toughest sheriff.” It’s a title he himself uses and it hangs on the wall of his office. He triumphantly pulls photos out of his desk drawer showing inmates at his tent city prison wearing pink underwear. Tough guys hate pink and that’s why Arpaio forces them to wear it. And he enjoys having them pull weeds along Arizona highways chained together in gangs of four.

Arpaio has been Sheriff of Maricopa County and his prison on the outskirts of Phoenix is his trademark. The publicity-hungry hardliner had kept a low profile lately but now he’s back in the limelight. Arpaio fashions himself as the leader of a citizen’s movement dedicated to keeping illegal aliens from crossing the desert from Mexico.

When the arch-conservative Tea Party organized a rally at one border fence site last weekend, the 78-year-old Arpaio was the undisputed star of the event. He demanded that U.S. Border Patrol personnel begin patrolling on the Mexican side of the border in order to intercept the flood of immigrants earlier. At the end of June, he had to swallow a defeat when a federal judge in Phoenix overturned a law he had long sought after — namely, allowing Arizona police to demand immigration documents from any person they suspected might be in the state illegally.

Under that law, those who couldn’t prove they were in the United States legally would be locked up until they were deported. That was the plan, but Judge Susan Bolton saw it as undue harassment of law-abiding citizens. There was a probability that police officials would arrest legally documented passers-by, she said in her decision. Arpaio wasn’t impressed, saying that SB 1070 (Arizona Senate Bill 1070) wasn’t dead and there were other ways to accomplish its ends.

SB 1070 is the amendment that started an Arizona avalanche. It has set a precedent. In Florida, right-wing politicians want something similar in order to make life difficult for Florida’s estimated 700,000 illegal immigrants. Bill McCollum, Florida’s Attorney General who hopes to ride the law-and-order wave in his run for governor stated, “Florida will not be a sanctuary state for illegal aliens.” He proposed that those unable to prove they are in the country legally be automatically detained in jail for twenty days. Illegals convicted of crimes, he suggested, should also receive harsher sentences than those with proper documentation.

In Fremont, Nebraska, an ordinance was passed prohibiting immigrants without papers from renting a dwelling. In Utah, some representatives want to create their own version of SB 1070, but there have been objections. Chris Burbank, Chief of Police in Salt Lake City rejects the initiative, saying it is racist. He knows that people with dark skin are more likely to be targets of the police than white people. Ever since he expressed his opinion, Burbank has received threatening letters calling him a “traitor.”

Eleven Million Illegals

No one really knows how many undocumented immigrants there are currently in the United States. The government estimates the number to be 11 million, most of them from Mexico and Central America. When the U.S. economy was booming, this cheap source of labor was welcomed. They did yard maintenance, worked in slaughterhouses and in citrus groves. The authorities turned a blind eye to it all. Now that the unemployment rate seems stuck around 10 percent, they’re no longer welcome.

Meanwhile, most of them have put down roots. Many have lived for twenty years in the U.S., their children attend American schools and connections to their former homelands have become more and more tenuous. U.S. politicians have known for a long time what needs to be done about this strange limbo they’re in. A second amnesty — Ronald Reagan signed the first one into being — is the best way to integrate them into U.S. society. They pay a penalty, but then have a new start.

Why this hasn’t yet happened is the result of hesitation on the part of the White House. Obama was elected partly on his campaign pledge to reform the immigration laws. That helped him convince a majority of skeptical Latinos to cast their ballots for him, an important factor in his election victory. But then the economic crisis, the war in Afghanistan and health care reform took precedence on Obama’s agenda while immigration reform slipped further and further down the priority list.

Republicans like John McCain, once a decisive proponent for amnesty, have meanwhile done an about- face and allied themselves with the hardliners. Anxious Democrats who fear a drubbing in the congressional elections in November aren’t eager to grab that hot potato, at least not yet.

Raul Grijalva, the U.S. congressman from the district that includes the city of Tucson, warns that Obama needs to campaign more energetically for immigration reform. His father came as a field hand to the U.S. from Mexico. With diplomatic reserve, Grijalva says he believes the time is ripe for a real solution.

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  1. Um…what are Austria’s laws regarding illegal aliens? Ever since the world has decided that the American people are evil for insisting that only legal immigrants and visitors are permitted here, I have been reading articles about how illegals are treated in other nations, including Europe.

    Why exactly do you think that anyone to can arrive on our shores is entitled to citizenship in the U.S., when you refuse to do the same with anyone who arrives at your borders?

    I really want to know.

    Best regards,
    Gail S

  2. The law says that the person MUST be stopped for a legitimate reason; you just can’t ask to see a persons papers because of a whim. Besides, have you ever been to Arizona? The majority of people who live there are dark. We have plenty of programs to allow people in the country to work, so that should not be an issue. If the issue is so sensitive for to you maybe we can send the 25 million (more accurate) illegals for your country to take care of.

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