Politics & Media
Apr 30, 2010, 07:43AM

SB-1070: Radical Racial Profiling

The Arizona immigration bill ignores historical and moral precedent.

(The following blog post incorporates and expands upon a short comment thread discussion I had over at Vogue Republic.)

Some good ink is being spilled over the recent immigration bill passed in Arizona (one of Splice Today’s new contributors, Jessica Ocheltree, offers a great summary here), and for good reason: the bill lays the foundation, via vague language, for vast racial profiling.

I found a pair of posts over at Vogue Republic by the author Kyle that, I felt, triangulated both my still-forming thoughts on the matter, as well as the tensions throughout the wider debate:

I for one to believe that if you fail to address a serious and growing problem, you can’t be surprised when less patient people, or perhaps those more pressingly impacted by it take matters into their own hands. Arguably that’s one of the arguments for the government provision of certain services in the public interest. Without an orderly and functioning system, a Hobbesian state of nature will begin to form. In those terms, at least as far as immigration is concerned, few people, if any, believe the state has upheld its “contract”  with the people

This makes sense did me, as did the author’s reality check: namely, comparing the vagueness of the bill’s wording (and its potential ramifications) with the EPA and poverty policy. It’s more of a ideological gut check: where and when do you draw the line and, once you’ve done so, do you notice any and all intellectual inconsistencies with that line placement? Greenhouse gases are inexorably a national issue—states and industries aren’t doing enough to regulate themselves,just as with the creation of the FDA; school segregation and targeted poverty policies address the centuries-disenfranchisement of minorities—again, something the state couldn’t/can’t do themselves. Immigration is a national issue that deserves national attention.

The author and I are agreed that at the very least Arizona is reminding us of that. We’re also agreed that the citizens of Arizona have a right to tend to their own affairs as they see fit. But, as I see it, narrowing analysis of this bill to a localist perspective ignores the broad impacts this sort of legislation has on the international community as well as dialogue/progress in the US. Yelling “fire” in a packed theater might force a town to examine its antiquated free speech statutes, but it doesn’t change the fact that a bunch of people got seriously trampled as the result of a mindless prank.

In the author’s follow-up post, though, he posits a phrase I found to be extremely distasteful, especially in a debate where a lot of nuance is needed lest it we trap ourselves, inexorably, in the muck. His phrase, “I find it offensive to civilization to presume to be a member of another community without being welcomed officially,” soured in my mouth (eyes?) upon contact. Not to go down the rabbit hole of concern trolling here, but I find it slightly disingenuous, if not simply glib, to top an argument with so ridiculous a piece of rhetoric—this, without even nominally mentioning the fact that the history of this country could be charted in immigration. The following line, “I believe Americans have every right to decide who does and does not belong here” I believe in spirit if not in practice, but America does not exist in a vacuum (the deepening and ignored issue of illegal immigration near the top of the evidence pile). Without trying to unleash the brass walking stick of moral hectoring, I’d say again: many of my and others’ ancestors came here, weren’t kicked out by laws like Arizona’s, and thus, me (and others). There is a moral precedent to lax immigration control and a legacy of political recalcitrance and demagoguery (we shout about it and do nothing) regarding the issue.

Here’s part of the author’s response to my comment:

I take a lot of stock in the idea of civilization and the self-defined polity that so dominated the Greek city states is something that I’ve taken from history. The ancient Greeks’ placed an enormous emphasis on citizenship and granted it sparingly. Citizenship, belonging to a society, these were defining concepts of antiquity and the birth of civilizations and I think with good reason. The self-defined polity uses definitions to work, to perpetuate, to grow, and identity – the ability to control identity –  is an integral concept to collaborative living, civilization.

Obviously, America is more dynamic than ancient Sparta or Rome. However, I think citizenship matters, belonging to a political society matters and illegal immigration and the presumption of such an act is, at least to me, rather patently offensive to that ideal.

Though wonderfully stated, I still feel as this line of argument gets bogged down in an ideological/philosophical reading of current events, rather than a practical one. Despite what I wrote above—at least Arizona is doing something about this issue—it can’t be ignored that this legislation comes from the Right’s crucible of xenophobia and racism, as well as its willingness to restrict civil liberties when and where they see fit.

Shikha Dalmia wrote in Forbes that,

If universal health coverage was part of the longstanding liberal agenda to implement a European-style welfare state in America, Arizona's tough new anti-immigrant law represents the conservative agenda to install a European-style surveillance state. Indeed, the very same conservatives who could not find words strong enough to condemn the Europeanization of America under ObamaCare are now greeting the Arizona law—which will require residents to prove their lawful status to authorities on demand—with a cheerful smile and a shrug.

Arizona’s bill is, at best a pyrrhic victory; if we can be glad that immigration is a national issue once more, then we should be alarmed—very alarmed—at the implications this bill may have on other states. This country won’t be able to think of citizenship as Kyle does above; instead, bills like Arizona’s only further the poisoning and polarization of pretty much every major issue in this country.


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