The newly signed immigration law is not about immigration; it is about division. It is a blatant attempt to create an identifiable sub-class made up of the politically dispossessed: The undocumented.
But it went too far; its scope is overbroad. In their zeal, the proponents of the law crossed the line. The law affects not only the undocumented but also everyone in the state of Arizona. As a lawyer friend told me, "Hell, I could be from Lithuania."
Because of its overbreadth, the struggle against its enforcement won't be confined to the people who, in the eyes of the proponents, can arouse reasonable suspicion of being here illegally. It will be between those who want to restrict civil liberties and oppress the defenseless - and the rest of us who will not stand for it.
There are about 7 million of us in Arizona; we are about 30 percent Hispanic (in some counties that number is as high as 80 percent); 5 percent Native American, and 4 percent black; 2.5 percent are Asian, and another 2 percent or so are persons with two or more races; that leaves about 57 percent as white, non-Hispanic, as identified by the census.
My friend Ivan, now working to rewrite the legal system in Kosovo, tells me that his friends there are confused about the Arizona travesty.
I suggested that, as the Jews were made to wear the Star of David, we should wear a prickly pear in our sleeves or chest to clearly identify our ethnicity. As a good son of a rabbi, he answered by telling me that the Israelis call the prickly pear "sabra," a name given to those born in the Jewish land. He thought the connection between the prickly pear and the Star of David, is remarkable and poignant.
I was in Cuba in 2000, doing a comparative study of the use of the laws to oppress and violate civil rights. I found plenty of objectionable laws there, but the most blatant was the requirement that neighbors turn in anyone suspected of not living by revolutionary standards. It encourages pettiness, parsimoniousness and fear.
Well, our new law gives my neighbor the power to compel the enforcement of the new law. Where do they pick up these ideas?
The law is aimed at the undocumented and it can certainly be used to harass people of color, but it can be applied to anyone: I can surely envision myriad situations where a police encounter with a person of any race or ethnicity can result in an immigration check, warranted or not, based solely on reasonable suspicion.
By these new standards, a seemingly innocent walk, or a visit to a fair, can turn into a nightmare if adults or children forgot their papers.
"Your papers, please," will be a lawful order that may trigger arrest for noncompliance.
As a lawyer, I find the law iniquitous and conniving; as a citizen, it brings out the most rebellious part of me. It calls for defiance and disobedience and everything in my being to overcome it.
Jesús Romo is a civil-rights attorney in Tucson. He has organized farm labor in Arizona and Florida. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org