Arizona comes to Georgia 

This is how out of control the immigration issue is in America: The governor of Arizona is making an endorsement in the Georgia governor’s race.

Karen Handel, currently jockeying for position with John Oxendine at the top of the crowded Republican field, is touting her recent endorsement by Jan Brewer, the Arizona governor who signed the controversial SB 1070 anti–illegal immigration law.

No one who has followed the issue is surprised by this. As far as I can tell, two other Republicans in the race, Nathan Deal and Savannah’s Eric Johnson, were actually the first to leap aboard the Arizona bandwagon before the ink was even dry on Brewer’s signature.

This is meat–and–potatoes Republican politics and no doubt devastatingly effective, if the various polls showing broad approval for the Arizona measure are to be believed.

Other Southern states, even ones with miniscule Latino populations, are jumping in on the immigrant–bashing act.
The most notorious example is the recent ad by an Alabama gubernatorial candidate who insists “we speak English in Alabama” (prompting the inevitable sarcastic chorus of “Oh, really, when did you start doing that?”)

Immigrant-bashing is effective because it’s easy. Scapegoating is always easy; that’s why people do it.

Even if many Georgians are mistaken in thinking that all people of Latino heritage are illegal, regardless of how long they’ve lived here as citizens, there’s little downside to supporting such legislation simply because the number of Latinos here, illegal or legal, is just not high enough yet to be a threat at election time.

Certainly much of the outcry against SB 1070 is hyperbolic, chiefly the complaint that it’s a “your papers please” law. The law as written explicitly states that a drivers license in most cases will be enough for law enforcement to presume someone is in the U.S. legally.

But the law is onerous in that if a suspect doesn’t cough up some ID — even if they’re perfectly legal and just out for a walk and happened to leave it at home — they can be detained for a lengthy immigration check.

I suspect in the worst case, law enforcement officers seeking to intimidate might use such a lengthy detention to break up families and send a message that certain people should just pack up and leave. For example, how many pre–teens carry ID?

In any case, a potentially draconian law which depends on the good intentions of the police to keep it from becoming actually draconian is a bad law by definition.

While most of my dispute with SB 1070 has to do with Fourth Amendment issues, the racial issue cannot be ignored. The law actually requires a form of racial profiling from Arizona police, in that they are duty-bound to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.

And how else would police be expected to suspect someone of being an illegal immigrant, if not for their ethnicity? Their haircut? Their shoes? Their vehicle? The entire exercise devolves into absurdity very quickly.

(And of course there’s the inevitable flip side: All those freckle-faced, fair-haired, pale-skinned white people who will be pulled over and asked for ID so that police departments won’t be accused of racial profiling. If you’ve been to an airport lately you know what I’m talking about.)

In these matters, context is everything. Sadly, one thing that is sorely missing today in American society and media is any real discussion of context.

So here’s the context: SB 1070 is just one of several measures Arizona has passed this year which specifically target Latinos as an ethnic group.

The others include:

• Teachers with “heavy accents” are no longer allowed to teach English in Arizona public schools. (No word on whether those with Brooklyn or Southern accents can continue teaching.)

• No more classes which “advocate ethnic solidarity” will be permitted in Arizona public schools.

Those who would say SB 1070 and the above pair of measures are all just isolated examples sound similar to Jim Crow–era apologists who said the same things about poll taxes and literacy tests 60 years ago.

Taken individually, an argument could be made for each of those measures. Taken as a whole, the measures added up to a specific attempt to keep African Americans from voting.

Clearly — and anyone who argues differently is either being disingenuous or is being paid to do so — Arizona’s recent laws are intended to do the same thing: target people of a particular ethnicity.

Regardless of your stance on illegal immigration, on the Constitution, or on the Obama administration, this is morally wrong and therefore indefensible.

I also grow weary of the juvenile red herring that SB 1070 is necessary because of the federal government’s inability to control illegal immigration. Not even a child would think this a convincing argument, though they may give it a shot in a desperate moment.

The federal government is clearly not doing its job, but two wrongs never make a right. If this is the best argument SB 1070 supporters can make, they will likely lose their upcoming defense against the recently–announced Department of Justice lawsuit.

But I doubt that supporters of SB 1070, like Karen Handel, Eric Johnson and company, really care whether the law stands or not. To them, the point is to use the law to divide, to polarize, and to get votes.

It’s cynical, it’s effective, and unfortunately it sows the seeds for future unrest to come.

Too bad the late, great Hunter S. Thompson isn’t around to weigh in on the issue. He would have had some twisted fun with it. In honor of what would have been the good gonzo doctor’s 73rd birthday on July 18, we present the Thompsonesque musings of Lance Hendrickson.

This week we also welcome a hearty addition to our stable of writers: Sharon Bordeaux, who will be contributing her take on green gardening.


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About The Author

Jim Morekis

Jim Morekis

A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series... more

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