Linn Washington Jr. is an award-winning journalist who writes a weekly column for The Philadelphia Tribune. A graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship, Washington writes regularly on issues involving law, the criminal justice system, news media and inequities involving race and/or class. This ’information junkie’ teaches multi-media urban reporting at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa. He lives in New Jersey and frequently travels abroad.
The Other Afrik - United States - Immigration - Racism - Drugs
Indignities implicit in Arizona immigration crackdown
Common sense, Albert Einstein once observed, is the collection of prejudices. Taking a twist on Einstein’s observation, recent legislation approved in the U.S. state of Arizona is a collection of prejudices crudely camouflaged as a common sense solution to immigration related issues.
Lost in the recent ruckus erupting over Arizona Governor Janet Brewer enacting a controversial law cracking down on illegal immigrants is a measure percolating through that state’s legislature changing requirements for posting presidential candidates on that state’s ballot.
This measure awaiting approval by the Arizona state Senate requires all presidential candidates to provide documentary proof that they are ‘natural born’ citizens of the United States as required the U.S. Constitution to receive a place on voting ballots in that Southwest state.
Simply put, this residency requirement approved by Arizona’s state House by a 31-to-22 margin is a sop to the “Birther Movement” – predominately Republican, far-right-wingers who shrilly contend that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, is not a legitimate White House occupant because he was not born in America.
Birthers’ advance their fact-starved assertion that Obama’s foreign birthplace (Kenya and/or Indonesia) fails to meet the ‘natural born’ requirement for a president specified in Article II Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution.
Birthers’ and their backers in conservative media like FOX cable news, persistent in their erroneous assertions despite numerous investigations failing to prove any illegitimacy in Obama’s birth certificate documenting his birth in the state of Hawaii.
An ironic fact ignored by Birther’s involves Obama’s Republican Party challenger in the 2008 presidential election, Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain, who acknowledges not being born inside the United States.
McCain’s birthplace is the Central American country of Panama.
McCain claims birth on a US Navy base inside Panama – bootstrapping this US controlled territory as satisfying that ‘natural born’ requirement.
However, McCain’s claim of a Navy base hospital birth place clashes with documentary evidence presented by bloggers of McCain’s birth in a Panamanian hospital outside that naval base zone, noting the base hospital McCain claims didn’t exist at the time of his 1936 birth.
Birthers’ – who are overwhelmingly white – indignantly reject all allegations that race prejudice plays any role in their assaults on Obama, America’s first black President.
Yes, politics is an arena where partisans score points by scorching opponents with criticisms that are intense and often inaccurate. And, yes, Obama, like any person holding the presidency, enjoys no immunity from criticism.
However, it affronts common sense to suggest that if McCain had beaten Obama in 2008, conservatives would still have launched a movement questioning McCain’s presidential legitimacy based on his birthplace in Panama.
Arizona’s immigration crackdown principally targets Mexicans – the largest group of illegal immigrants in America today. This crackdown includes prison terms for violators.
Although advocates of this immigration crackdown deny that race prejudice drives their anti-Mexican campaign, common sense compels the conclusion that Arizona authorities will direct little enforcement against the five-percent of the illegal immigrants in America who come from Canada and Europe.
Arizona officials sternly declare their police WILL NOT use repugnant racial-profiling when enforcing their crackdown on illegal immigrants.
That pledge however rings hollow considering the multiple lawsuits filed against police profiling in Arizona…profiling based primarily on facial features that have ensnared lawful Hispanics from a county judge to laborers.
Earlier this year a federal judge faulted the Sheriff’s Department in Phoenix, Arizona’s capital, for destroying evidence about their anti-Mexican immigration sweeps sought in a class-action lawsuit against profiling.
Despite official denials, Arizona’s immigration crackdown covertly enables police use of ethnic characteristics like listening to Spanish music or facial features (i.e. – racial profiling) to provide them with the ‘reasonable suspicion’ legally required to lawfully demand documentation from people to determine if they are in the U.S. legally.
Prejudice stains the U.S. history of racial profiling as a law enforcement tool. That taint crosses America’s partisan divide. Obama’s Republican and Democratic presidential predecessors both had bad records on addressing inequities in racial profiling.
Republican President Bush seized on long-standing criticisms from blacks and Hispanics about prejudicial police profiling as a campaign plank, promising to eliminate the practice if elected in 2000. Yet, following the 9/11/01 attacks, Bush eagerly expanded racial profiling beyond Drug War targeting to include enforcement against Arabs, Muslims and South Asians under his War on Terror.
Democratic President Bill Clinton repeatedly ignored pleas during his eight-years in the White House to address documented prejudicial Drug War profiling. Interestingly, a federal judge, in 1988, castigated the Arkansas State Police for breaking his order to end profiling against Hispanics during Clinton’s long-tenure as Arkansas Governor.
Crackdown proponents in Arizona cite mushrooming violence involving Mexican drug cartels in their state. Curiously, this drug violence is a problem linked to U.S. policies pushed on Mexico.
In May 2006 the Mexican Senate approved a measure decriminalizing drugs to curtail spiraling drug problems including violence. Yet pressure from the Bush Administration backed by a conservative chorus across America pressured then Mexican President Fox to back away from decriminalization.
Fox’s successor – following dictates from U.S. conservatives – ramped up armed attacks on drug cartels.
But after ten-of-thousands of Mexican Drug War deaths in the past few years alone Fox’s successor, President Felipe Calderon, calls for decriminalization to cut violence…a tactic still opposed by conservatives in the U.S. who exert inordinate sway over America’s stuck-on-stupid drug prohibition.
Illegal immigration may cause some problems in America but unleashing police to maraud against non-whites is not the solution.
Violating the rights of lawful Arizona citizens of Hispanic ancestry to ferret out undocumented immigrants is wrong.
President Obama is right calling for immigration reform at the federal not state levels – a call Republicans on Capitol Hill resist.
Immigration crackdown proponents should heed wisdom of Einstein who once noted that “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
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