Saturday, April 24, 2010

Flagging Arizona

I’ve spent time in Arizona. In fact, a good 40 years ago, my parents thought about purchasing property there. They considered it seriously enough to begin plotting out the design of the house they would build in the environs of Sedona (in those days, completely undeveloped). I remember hoping they’d change their minds. Used to the lush green of Guatemala, Arizona’s beauty eluded me. It simply seemed a harsh and inhospitable place.

In the ensuing years I’ve learned to delight in the spectacular colors and starkly stunning landscapes of the American Southwest. But it turns out that my child self was right after all. Arizona, after the signing into law of SB1070 yesterday, is truly a harsh and inhospitable place.

Soon, it will be impossible in Arizona to drive someone to the hospital or emergency room without first ascertaining whether their documents are in order. If you do so – either because you don’t think to ask about their documents or because your humanitarian instincts compel you to provide help anyway -- you can kiss your car goodbye (because it will be impounded) and you may face further sanctions.

Soon, if you look like you could possibly be an undocumented immigrant in Arizona, the police will have the law-backed right to stop you, wherever and whenever, and ask you to prove you are fully documented. And, if you think a social security card will be enough proof, think again.

Soon, even transiting through Arizona while looking like you might, conceivably, be undocumented will be a crime. And in Arizona -- as in the rest of the rest of the United States since immigration has become a hot button topic -- you look “illegal” if you look “Latino.”

Set aside for a moment that there are Latinos of all colors and “looks” (I have Guatemalan cousins who are amazons closer to 6-ft. than 5, and crowned with heads of hair nearer to auburn than dark brown or black), there are plenty of citizens and permanent residents and fully documented folks who fit the bill of what those Arizonan police officers will be looking to pull over.

There’s been a lot of effort expended by proponents of the bill-which-is-now-law to explain that passage of this law is not a form of sanctioned racial profiling. If you clicked the link on my last blog post you know that spokespeople are claiming that there is a whole arsenal of “indicators” besides skin-tone or accented English for determining potential “illegal” status – including the type of clothing and shoes you wear.

Oh, good, that makes it so much better.

Is this new? Of course not. African-Americans, particularly young men, have been routinely stopped because the police find it suspicious that they are where they are at any given moment. My college friend Cary was taken aside and questioned by police at the Bronxville train station just because he was young and African American and the police assumed he wasn’t a student at Sarah Lawrence College because of that. My older brother stopped wearing his black leather jacket when he was a grad student at Yale because whenever he did the New Haven cops would stop him, thinking no Latino who looked and dressed like him could possibly have been rightfully registered at that august institution of higher learning.

So, of course, racial profiling takes place, daily, in states other than Arizona. It’s just that as of yesterday, Arizona is flying its racial profiling as a flag to be saluted.

This sad and horrifying law should raise concern beyond those who might fear being stopped. Remember, this law criminalizes Good Samaritan action -- don’t stop to give that stranded motorist a lift to the nearest gas station or telephone box. It potentially criminalizes friendship --how many times do you ask your friends or acquaintances or coworkers to prove their legal status before they get into your car? It criminalizes the pastoral care priests and religious leaders provide for their congregations when they provide vans and buses to bring them to church or catechism classes. It criminalizes the ways we are a human family and so help each other out.

The Catholic bishops and other religious leaders of the region have roundly condemned this law as immoral (see here and here and here). A broad coalition of organizations is protesting and drawing attention to the injustice the law institutionalizes and the dangerous precedents it sets (see here and here and here). A boycott has been called (see here and here).

I have to say I’m pretty proud of the individuals and organizations that are willing to stand and protest a law this unjust. As for me, I don’t take losses of civil liberties or institutionalized prejudice lightly. I plan to keep writing about it and nagging the president and all of those legislators whose self-interest has eclipsed common good and common sense in this matter.

I hope that as a reader of this blog you join me in this. Let’s lower Arizona’s racial profiling flag and fly a different one, okay? One that acknowledges that at some point we all wore immigrant shoes and clothes and skin -- and that it never was a good enough reason to be pulled over. Or left stranded.

Image of antique map of the Americas from the Vintage Moth.


  1. good essay, Sabrina ... I've shared it on Facebook.

  2. Thank you Sabrina for writing on this most important and at the same time unfortunate and embarrassing precedence. The last time I looked...America was the home of the FREE and the BRAVE. As an American citizen and a Latina, I am outraged!

    Anna Vega


Comment on this post: