In fewer than two days we will know if the most draconian anti-immigrant, anti-Latino proposal this country has seen since the infamous Sensenbrenner bill becomes the law of the land in Arizona. That is the deadline facing Governor Jan Brewer. She could veto, sign or merely allow this outrage to become law by doing nothing.
Expectations are that the Republican governor facing reelection will sign it. It will be a sad day for Arizona and America.
This is what happens when our leaders fail us by allowing a problem to fester. Racial resentment on the right side of the political spectrum is the result of an abdication of leadership in Washington; and it's how you arrive at where Arizona is now, on the cusp of enacting a law that has widely been panned by law experts as unconstitutional on the grounds that it usurps federal authority and would legislate racial profiling.
The law, known as Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act, would among other hideous things, require police to arrest anyone who cannot immediately prove they're in the country legally. So we find ourselves on the verge of converting Arizona, which has one of the largest Latino populations in America into a police state.
The state's Republican leaders say the bill, SB 1070, is needed to fight the violence and crime spilling over from Mexico's drug war. But if that were truly their motive, they wouldn't need this new law. I'm no legal expert but I'm fairly sure Arizona has laws already against kidnapping, murder, trafficking and smuggling. The law's intention, rather, is not to root out crime and lawlessness. There is no question that the law's inspiration and support comes from fear, a gnawing discomfort with seeing a demographic and cultural shift. Let's be clear: at its core this is about racism.
In the view of the fear mongers, this wasn't supposed to happen. The people they lured to their state with construction and hospitality jobs were supposed to be there only to work, not to become part of their community, raise children, go to church and open their own businesses.
The solution cobbled together in the narrow minds of these Republican leaders is simple: hassle people until the leave. The law mandates police verify the immigration status of anyone they have reasonable suspicion is undocumented and arrest anyone who can't immediately prove their status. Amongst the obvious problems with this approach: How is a police officer on the streets of Phoenix supposed to distinguish an undocumented Latino from a citizen?
There's the rub. This is why immigrants and Latinos of every political stripe are opposed to this law. There are no outwardly distinguishable differences between an undocumented immigrant and a citizen. And that is why as a brown-skinned person, this law scares the hell out of me. The only way to root out the undocumented from the citizens and legal immigrants would be to question every dark-skinned person, to trample on the civil rights of people based on race.
It's infuriating to hear people who constantly rail against big government infringement stand in support with a law that would force every Latino and immigrant to show their papers on a whim. It's infuriating to know that even people who acknowledge this law could lead to violations of people's civil rights--Senator McCain, are you listening?-- still support it.
Not all is lost even if the Governor signs this travesty into law. All eyes will turn to President Obama. He can sue Arizona for usurping federal authority, and refuse to deport anyone caught up by this law. And President Obama must move on comprehensive immigration reform. There's been some activity on this front lately with Obama calling Republicans and encouraging them to support Sen. Schumer's efforts to pen a bipartisan comprehensive bill. That's not enough. President Obama must be more active in this fight.
The urgency for comprehensive immigration reform has never been more acute. The madness of racial profiling and scapegoating of immigrants requires moral leadership at the top levels of this country.
The only way to assure SB1070 doesn't happen in Ohio or Colorado, where copycat laws are being tossed around, is to solve the problem comprehensively and federally. In the meantime, we need to stand up to hate, bigotry and racism in Arizona. Nothing less than the future of our country is at stake.