Arizona’s state legislature passed “the toughest measure in the country against illegal immigrants” yesterday, requiring police officers to check your immigration status if they have a “reasonable suspicious” you are not “legal.” It also makes it a misdemeanor to not carry your immigration paperwork.
I think Annie Lai, an attorney with the ACLU, said it best: “One of the most disturbing aspects is that many innocent U.S. citizens, Native Americans and lawful residents will be swept up in the application of the law because of the requirement that officers detain and investigate the immigration status of people they come across.”
And that’s the long and short of it. Not only has Arizona further criminalized “illegal immigrants,” it has also criminalized “legal immigrants” and all brown-skinned people, anyone who might look like some bigot’s stereotype of what an “illegal” is.
Even if this “collateral damage” of the bill is unintended (and I think there is enough of a record of racism in this nation and this region for one to make the plausible argument that it is not), and even if that damage could be contained and minimized in some way, the fact of the matter is that this state has now seen fit to legalize the policing of the movement and presence of human bodies in ways unheard of since the era of Southern Slavery.
So where will this take us?
We are already seeing an increase in physical acts of violence committed against Latinos, much of it related to bigoted notions of legality and illegality. In extreme, though not unfamiliar instances, this has resulted in death. The US fomented drug war, further given shape and violence by the incompetence of Mexican authorities to do much of anything, is claiming lives and escalating the culture of fear and racism on both sides of the border. And individual states are passing measures that come right out of fantastical satires of 21st century fascism.
I consider myself a reasonable person. I am also one who is very committed to peace. For me, this is a real political and social project, not just empty rhetoric. It comes with a fundamental belief that we can, in fact, create systems of human relations that meet everyone’s basic human needs, including the freedom from needless acts of violence–whether physical, emotional, economic, or political. But even I am scared about the future.
I can’t help thinking that we are heading toward a much darker time. To suggest that wanton violence may be a part of that time is silly. It already is. And we all moved one step closer to further nurturing it yesterday.