Arizona Law Protest: Halo Effect for Blacks?
Â The new Arizona law (SB1070) making it a crime for "illegal immigrants" (undocumented workers) to be in Arizona, requiring police to determine whether people they stop are in the country illegally and barring the hiring or soliciting of work from the streets, has saturated the news for the past two weeks. It has also galvanized nationwide protests including a massive demonstration in Los Angeles last weekend; estimates of the overwhelmingly Latino crowd ranged from 60,000 to 100,000 protesters.
A universal complaint is that the new law sanctions racial profiling. Arizona's governor Jan Brewer denies this. She says the law's purpose is to simply prosecute and deport immigrants who don't have documents indicating they're in the U.S. legally. Brewer says the law does what the federal government has failed to do.
The compelling issue here is Blacks' perception of the new law, which President Obama describes as a "short cut that will inflame the debate instead of solving the problem." There is no general consensus among Blacks concerning undocumented workers. (The term" illegal immigrant" is inflammatory and generally incorrect. The legality or illegality of an undocumented person's status is determined either administratively, or by a federal court. The term "illegal immigrant" should not be used unless "illegal" has been officially determined.
Blacks have always been the prime target of racial profiling--it was a basic ingredient of slavery. However, they have generally not spoken out against racial profiling of Latinos, in part, because many feel undocumented Latino immigrants, especially, have taken their jobs and receive preferential treatment at their expense. It is a complex, emotionally laden issue not easily resolved, but heretofore, Black leadership, including the Black press, has largely ducked the issue. Presumably, they preferred to remain silent rather than risk alienating constituents, many of whom are ambivalent about undocumented immigrants. But Black leadership's silence is unprincipled and a disservice to their respective constituents.
The National Urban League president, Marc Morial: "Tens of thousands of innocent, legal residents of Arizona are vulnerable to harassment, detention and imprisonment based on nothing more than a perception of their ethnicity." Congresswoman Maxine Waters said, "I understand that America's broken immigration system has had disastrous consequences for our nation as well as American citizens and undocumented individuals living here who seek a better life for themselves and their families. The new Arizona law is not consistent with the Constitution or America's democratic values."
Dr. J. Owens Smith (California State University Fullerton) argues that Latinos, the undocumented especially, do take Blacks' jobs, receive differential treatment in certain areas, including public education and are accorded rights and privileges to which they're not entitled. Many Blacks, tend to agree. But Smith also contends Blacks and Latinos have always been victims of racism; Black-Latino conflict differs because both are lower-income groups in need of intense special attention.
He also argues that immigrants who have the strongest kinship ties will be "war-like" and more likely to become politically powerful and contends Blacks have internalized cultural values of individualism, so their kinship ties are not as strong as Latino immigrants. His underlying message is that immigration must not be at the expense of Blacks.
Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi, founder of the Ma'at Club for Community Change, asserts that the new Arizona law is based on the same problematic premise that has killed, injured and maimed Blacks for hundreds of years. "...It espouses the belief that non-white racial groups must be monitored, contained and controlled through the most aggressive means of the law." Kokayi emphasizes that Black history, in significant ways, parallels Latino history and that Black people should strongly reject the expansion of law enforcement's power to arbitrarily arrest, detain or incarcerate anyone. He says if Blacks practiced the principles of strong historical Black leaders, they would not be so preoccupied with the perception of another group's taking over their jobs, schools, etc.
Hopefully, post-Arizona's new, the Obama Administration, will abandon its tepid stance on immigration reform and propose comprehensive, humane immigration policy. Nationally, opposition to Arizona's new law is steadily growing and includes legal challenges--even U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is considering the possibility of a lawsuit by the federal government.
The new Arizona law will increase racial profiling. But proponents could care less, and together with Tea Party types, are looking to gain Republican Congressional seats in November and to limit Obama to one term.
Hopefully, the halo effect of growing protests to Arizona's new law will embolden Blacks to join the vanguard of mutually beneficial, collaborative efforts for comprehensive, humane immigration reform.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail