Friday, March 1, 2024

Arizona Watch Guest Blogger:Rudy Ruiz “Arizona Immigration Law: A Step Backwards in Time”

When I was an undergraduate at Harvard, I heard horror stories at the dinner table from a number of my African American friends and classmates, particularly males, about negative and completely unwarranted experiences with police officers. Of course, Latinos weren’t completely immune to that type of discrimination either, but our situation did not seem nearly as difficult and pervasive. Now all of that may be changing. Just as we take one step forward, we may be taking two steps back. Not long after our first African American president hosted the legendary beer summit to assuage the ruffled feathers over the race-driven flap between a Cambridge police officer and Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Arizona legislature is de facto legalizing racial profiling of Latinos as it broadens the powers of police to identify and apprehend undocumented immigrants.

According to the New York Times, “Passage of the law, which would, among other things, allow the authorities to demand proof of legal entry into the United States from anyone suspected of being in the country illegally, testified to the relative lack of political power of Arizona Latinos, and to the hardened views toward illegal immigration among Republican politicians both here and nationally.”

Isabel Garcia, an Arizona legal defender, told CNN: “We have not seen this kind of legislation since the Jim Crow laws. And targeting our communities, it is the single…largest attack…”

The situation brings to light an issue that all fair-minded Americans must acknowledge and confront: that the debate over undocumented immigrants conflates perceptions, feelings and attitudes regarding all Latinos, both those who are legally residing in this nation and those who are not. My own personal example is that I’d never faced much discrimination for being a Latino until I wrote in support of immigration reform. I was then flooded with hateful emails and comments demanding that I “go back where I came from.” The thing is I’m American. I came from here.  I was born here. Where am I supposed to go? Get my point? Suddenly I was seen not as an American exercising free speech but as a foreigner in my own land.

Anti-immigrant sentiment, fervor and the type of misguided legislation that has passed in Arizona only boils the cauldron of hatred bubbling within certain groups in our country. And when that hatred overflows, undocumented immigrants are not the only ones that will be targeted, pulled over without reason, humiliated or abused, thrown into the back seat of a squad car with cuffs on because they didn’t have their ID handy. It’ll be anyone who “looks like” or “sounds like” a Latino immigrant. And that could be – if left up to the interpretation of someone who is not an expert in anthropology or someone with less than honorable intentions – just about any Latino on any given day. This moral hazard that Latino citizens, our shared society, and even police officers may be asked to bear should be offensive to all Americans who value fair treatment – if not of undocumented immigrants – at least of our own citizens.

People should not be singled out for negative treatment due to how they look, the color of their skin, their accent or their religious beliefs. It is a commonly touted – if not universally enforced – principle of American democracy that we should not discriminate on the basis of race, color or creed. But that’s exactly what racial profiling does. And that’s exactly what this law will do.

Interestingly, the Arizona measure is also an example of “tyranny of the majority.” Because, although nearly a third of Arizona’s population is Latino, none of the largely Republican statewide elected officials – and only one of the legislators who voted for the bill – appear to be Hispanic.

If Latinos can find no power or justice on the state level, this turn of events should raise the ante. Congress and the White House must act with a greater sense of urgency on immigration reform before states and regions saddled with a history of racism increasingly take matters into their own hands, particularly on an issue that most experts agree is outside of their Constitutional jurisdiction.

If Arizona’s immigration bill is implemented, I have a haunting feeling there’ll be many more horror stories about discriminatory run-ins with the police circulating around tables wherever Latinos sit down to talk, from college campuses to coffee counters, construction sites to libraries. And that would be not a step forward, but a step backwards in time.

A published author and multicultural advocate, Rudy Ruiz is an acclaimed multicultural communications entrepreneur. He founded Red, Brown and Blue as well as Interlex, one of the nation’s leading advocacy marketing agencies. Prior to that, Ruiz earned his BA in Government at Harvard College and his Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.