(Note: This is from a longer piece I wrote for Tikkun magazine. The thinking was, when it comes to the immigrant rights movement, SB1070 and Arizona apartheid…we know what we are against, but what are we FOR? This is my contribution to the conversation, an attempt to frame our struggle in terms of a larger, positive worldview. Join the conversation…)
The federal judge who blocked the worst provisions of Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law one day before they were to take effect didn’t do so on the basis of its violations of civil rights. No, Judge Susan Bolton ruled that portions of SB1070, including the mandate that local law enforcement check the papers of anyone they ’suspect’ is undocumented, were unconstitutional because they “intruded into federal authority.” The legislation, even in its watered down version, is still the harshest anti-immigrant law in decades and represents the legalization of xenophobia against Latinos and anyone with brown skin. While grassroots activists fight the morality and legality of SB1070, the law’s proponents like Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, claim it is necessary because the “federal government has failed to act.” Though I hate to admit it because I’m out in the streets protesting her every week, the truth is: she’s right.
Congress and numerous presidents, including President Obama, have ignored and often exacerbated the root causes of immigration. Federal lawmakers focus on short-term, knee-jerk proposals: a new guest worker policy here, a taller wall outside Tijuana there. With little national leadership, legislators at the state level have taken the issue up on their own in increasingly reactionary ways. Arizona is only the most extreme version of this vigilante version of immigration policy.
And it’s not over. Massive unemployment, a disastrous drug war, and 40 years of conservative ideology dominating American discourse have all created a backdrop for the current attacks on immigrants. So while thousands of immigrants and progressive activists across the country have protested SB1070 and called for a boycott of Arizona, conservative lawmakers in other states have drafted legislation modeled after the controversial new law.
One such state that recently proposed its own apartheid-lite law is Minnesota. You read that right: Minnesota! That’s the other border. Now, I lived right next door to Minnesota for six years in the great state of Wisconsin, and I can tell you from experience: just like Sarah Palin could “see Russia” from her home in Alaska, the governor of Minnesota can make out Canada in the distance. So is that what’s pushing Minnesota to pass such an anti-immigrant law? A fear of undocumented Canadians?