A guest essay by Stephen Williamson, first published as a DAILY KOS diary on July 24, 2010, and reposted here, in slightly altered form, by permission of the author.
For activists in Arizona the fight over SB 1070 has been something between riding a roller coaster and watching a train wreck. If you are wondering what happened to Arizona, the crazy has always been with us. But two years ago we had a Democratic Governor, Janet Napolitano, to veto the worst bills passed by Republican dominated legislature.
AZ Republican elected officials have long been extreme. Russell Pearce and his supporters would like to deport every undocumented person, all 11 million, from the US. They neither see nor fear unintended consequences. Will it split up families? Too bad! Arguments based on compassion or moderation do not give them pause. Republican candidates are selected in a primary by about 25% of the voters — the hard right. Pearce is now the AZ Republican mainstream. The Tea Party has gone after conservatives who are not conservative enough, and moderate Republicans office holders were largely purged from the party by 2006.
When Napolitano was governor and used her veto power, anti-immigration bills had to become propositions and be put to a vote. Anti-immigrant props have won in past years by high margins. Even here in Sedona, considered a Democratic town (registration is very slightly Republican but both Kerry and Obama pulled in about 55% of the vote) past anti-immigration bills got about 70% of the vote.
SB 1070’s passage and response has come in stages. You’ve seen them in the news, but let me recap the situation from the AZ prospective:
(1) “Oh my God! it’s going just as bad as we thought it would be with Napolitano gone!” SB 1070 passes without a single Democratic vote in the State House or Senate.
(2) Will she or won’t she? She does. Governor Brewer had conversations with officials in which they got the impression she knew SB 1070 was bad law and might not sign it. But she’s running for election in November and not signing SB 1070 would have led to a primary defeat.
(3) Passionate opposition to 1070. The AZ Democratic Party condemned the bill in no uncertain terms. So did our local Democratic club. National boycotts are declared. AZ Towns like Flagstaff oppose the bill and plan to join the lawsuit against it. More importantly, none of us had seen the Latino community so uniformly outraged. Illegal immigration has had its Latino opponents, but even so 1070 struck very deeply and very broadly.
(4) The counter attack on critics of the bill. The dominant meme cluster that was recirculated again and again through the AZ MSM. “It’s not as bad as they say. Critics of the bill are enemies of AZ. It’s just like the Federal law. Everybody has to carry identification to drive a car anyway.”
(5) The triumphal march of SB 1070 supporters. Polls show tremendous support for the bill both in AZ and beyond. The latest Rasmussen poll in AZ: 65% in favor, 27% opposed. Word goes out to Democrats and Democratic candidates to be very very careful. Obvious attempts are made to slap down those of us vocally opposed to 1070. I’m not ranting against the Democratic establishment. They are not wrong (as far as it goes) about the level of support for 1070 or the damage it can do to Democrats in the upcoming election.
(6) The triumphal M=march of SB 1070 supporters continues but the lawyers take over. Recently there has been a huge if uneven improvement in reporting about AZ and 1070. Both bloggers and the MSM have gotten a better handle on what’s happening here. Knowledge of AZ developments goes national much quicker. We find out about Pearce’s plans next year to deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants born in the US and the news goes national within the week, not a month or two months later. You are getting good reporting on what’s happening here. But I want to bring up some points that I haven’t seen mentioned or emphasized elsewhere.
(1) The bill is an attack on the whole Latino community. Latino kids and their parents were out with signs the next day. The main reason for their outrage, which extended to the most conservative elements of the community, was the idea of being singled out for racial profiling. But there are other reasons that haven’t been talked about as much. (1) Legal immigrants, illegal immigrants and citizens are very often interconnected in the same family, extended family, and social groups. An attack on illegal immigrants hits your uncle or your dad but not your mom or the guy who cuts your hair. (2) It’s an attack on collective Latino institutions — the newspapers, beauty shops, markets, thrift shops, clothes stores, churches, bakeries, car dealers. Some estimate that up to a third of the illegal immigrants have left already, and Latino institutions have been hard hit. “The aim is to weaken the Latino community politically, not just deport the undocumented. The fears are deep. We are being overrun! The white town has too many new brown faces. Mexicans want Arizona back. They contribute nothing and are sucking our economy dry.”
(2) Self deportation. In AZ we suspect much of SB 1070’s intended impact is what supporters gleefully call self-deportation. It’s never been clear to us though exactly how much Pearce and crew were counting on self-deportation. The people actually writing the bill are from a professional anti-immigrant foundation. They have been around the track few times and have fashioned a bill they hope is bullet-proof in its constitutionality.They built in a massive amount of preemptive defense, still they knew the bill would be challenged. 1070 was still so far from the mark that they had to immediately amend it after passage. It’s a very odd-sounding bill if you read the details. It’s a thugs’ law, written and passed by thugs, using intimidation and inviting selective and dishonest enforcement. Look at the section making it illegal to block traffic to hire workers who might be illegal. How many times does someone actually block traffic hiring somebody to do lawn work at an informal labor exchange? The aim is to intimidate and provide a legal cover to arrest people. It’s AZ, and for us there’s no question who a jury is going to believe — you or the cop. Pearce himself may sincerely simply want to expel all undocumented folks now in the US. But some SB 1070 supporters are gleeful at the amount of damage it has inflicted on Democrats, the Obama administration, and the even the Federal government by forcing them on the opposite side of a popular bill ginned up by social hysteria. It’s wedge issue time. For many supporters it’s a win win situation, even if the bill is unconstitutional. Anti- administration anti-government side effects of the bill are a big dessert more delicious than the main course.
(3) State Enforcement of Federal law. SB 1070 relies on a federal law written 70 years ago that is seldom enforced. And what was happening in 1940? Germany was invading Norway and Poland, occupying Paris. The Nazis were bombing England. It’s in response to all this — the fear of German and Japanese agents, spies and propagandists — that the law was passed. Two years later the US interned 150,000 Japanese residents — talk about ethic or racial profiling. And the Supreme Court said that was just fine. The law passed in a fearful period and was modified not by being rewritten, but by practice, an evolving interpretation of when and how to enforce it. State enforcement ignores 70 years of legal precedent. Will the police use racial profiling? Of course, they could barely stop if they wanted to. But they are being taught how to frame their arrests so they can’t be attacked for profiling.
(4) Arizonans, like the rest of the population, have had it with illegal immigration. The situation with illegal immigration reminds me of the welfare debate years ago, where Americans had simply not signed off on permanent welfare for the able bodied. If the problems with illegal immigration are not fixed humanely, they will be fixed inhumanely. At the time outrageous lies and exaggerations about welfare queens and benefit theft flooded the media, and trying to clear the air didn’t have much impact because the American people were fed up with the welfare system. They are fed up now with illegal immigration.
And so the current nonsense and lies. Governor Brewer’s citing of headless bodies.The non-existent Southern Arizona crime wave. Claims that illegals are hardened criminals. The conviction that we’re being overrun, even as the undocumented population has dropped precipitously. Facts don’t get through. At some level they don’t matter. So what if ninety-six of those arrested for being here illegally have no prior record. Doesn’t matter. A widespread complaint is that they are not paying taxes. Of course they are, although most don’t earn enough to pay federal or state income taxes because the least good jobs in the country don’t pay very well. Arizona relies almost entirely on sales tax anyway, and immigrants are paying the same taxes as everybody else.
Will they racially profile? Of course they will, they could hardly avoid it. The law as originally passed authorized racial profiling — it just couldn’t be the only reason. Consider that Sheriff Joe is most popular voter-getter in the state. Are the supporters racist? My sense it that they are largely people who can’t identify with folks who are not like them. It’s nationalism or tribalism as politics. There is a vast ocean of resentment and fear among white Arizonans about perhaps no longer being the majority or the clear “winners”. There are rivers of resentment flowing through generations, among family and social groups. One far right friend told me his father had been unfairly replaced by an incompetent black woman from his job as an accounting teacher because of federal law. The resentment is passed down from one generation to the next. His whole family moved to the far right largely because the government is for “them” not us. As Rachel Maddow put it, they see it as a zero sum game.
Illegals are the problem? They are mostly rural folks leaving dire poverty and the dimmest prospects and coming to the US without permission to take the least good jobs at the lowest wages. That’s the illegal part of “what part of illegal don’t you understand”. These folks are being combined emotionally and politically with violent drug and people smugglers and the vast carnage going on right on the other side of the border.
(5) AZ opposition to SB 1070. It’s primarily liberals, progressives, most Democrats, civil rights groups. The usual suspects. I’m deeply embedded in Democratic and liberal circles, but what I actually hear most, outside those circles, is objections to 1070 from people who have a relationship with undocumented immigrants or their families, sometimes going back decades. Employers, co-workers, friends, fellow church members. Sometimes years have passed and they have never asked people whether they are here legally or not. And they are not about to. It would be a personal betrayal. What I’m seeing is some version of Harvey Milk’s insight that anti-gay measures would meet opposition from the friends and families of people who were gay. There is not as often a family connection, but still that is where the non political opposition to 1070 rests. It’s personal loyalty. The other thing that’s very odd is lack of ethnic tension. I’ve seen a lot of different interethnic situations, but here the Mexican and Anglos get along well. Again, they are mostly undocumented, rural people keeping their heads down and working their butts off. The odd thing is they have a good reputation; even the stereotyping is positive. And yet we have the social hysteria that is overriding everything else. The other opposition to 1070 comes from compassionate people who just don’t like persecuting people who have basically done no wrong.
(6) Far right extremists. The Tea Party is strong here. It may have astroturf money, but it’s a mass movement. (I’m glad we are done with the MSM nonsense about who they are– they are far right wing Republican conservatives.) They are not stupid, they have picked up new issues before, as they once did abortion, that weren’t part of their original tool box. They have found what they think is new branding and a new tool box, and are convinced they can ride the free floating anger and skepticism about the federal government to power. If you look at page after page of tea party portraits on the Phoenix-based Tea Party web site what do you see? White folks, mostly older. But what you see beyond that is attitudinizing– adopting hats, posture, clothes that would lead you, and them, to believe they’ve always been here in Arizona. That this is their land, whereas in fact most people in Arizona are relative newcomers with roots elsewhere. As I understand it, many undocumented immigrants have been in the state longer. Far right extremists need to make it clear that they are the legitimate residents of Arizona, not latinos. The Tea Party and the Republican right collects them together and validates that emotion.
(7) What next? There is currently a race for governor in Arizona. Terry Goddard, the current Democratic Attorney General, is the personification of intelligence, competence and professionalism. He recently received the distinction of being selected as the outstanding AG by his fellow Attorney Generals. On the other side we have Jan Brewer, a mediocre conservative opportunist, who is leading Goddard by 20 points. If Goddard continues with his current conventional campaign he is going to lose badly. The AZ Democratic Party has a decent ground game here. It’s a well organized party. I’m a member, but I’m a member because I’m convinced that the AZ Democratic Party is a decent organization. Full time paid OFA organizers who work between elections is something we only dreamed about a few years ago, yet we have them in Arizona. You are going to see more of a fight here than you might expect. The ground game will turn out Democrats despite the enthusiasm gap. It does look, however, like the wave of righteous anger may very well prevail.