Arizona’s Conservative White Legislators: Illiterate and Racist on Immigration

Here is a draft letter from scholars at the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies, that is, researchers and analysts who really know the data on immigration and immigrants in the United States, especially in the Southwest. One of the sickest things about this country now is how the right-wing has moved us away from considering research data on many important issues of public policy. Take the now famous recent actions by the often illiterate (about history and immigration) legislators in the state of Arizona. Here is the insightful and extraordinarily informative letter, signed by a former student of mine at the University of Texas, well worth reading in its entirety:

May 3, 2010
The Honorable Jan Brewer
Governor of Arizona
1700 West Washington
Phoenix, Arizona 85007
Dear Governor Brewer and the People of Arizona’s Civil Society:
The National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) was established in 1972 and is the nation’s oldest and largest professional scholarly organization dedicated to the study of the social sciences and humanities as these pertain to Mexican-origin peoples in the United States. Our membership covers every state in the union including Arizona, where several outstanding national higher education centers for Chicana/o Studies are located. We are writing to express our deepest concerns and convey our unwavering opposition to Arizona’s SB 1070.
The NACCS membership includes hundreds of social science experts and research scholars. At least four are former MacArthur “Genius” Fellows; more than fifty have authored prize-winning books; and many serve on corporate, foundation, and governmental boards and commissions. Some of us have served as elected officials or as college deans, provosts, and presidents. All of us are accomplished and widely-recognized scholarly authors, professors, and researchers. We are public servants in the real sense of providing rigorous education, training, and knowledge to diverse students and communities in the United States and beyond. Above all, we are Americans. Some of us trace our heritage in what is now the United States back dozens of generations. I personally trace my maternal ancestral tree to its “Black Irish” roots in the mid-1600s and much earlier if I include the clan lines of my Creek great-great grandmother, Missouri Ann Berryhill. Yet, here I am: An American of Mexican-Irish-German-Creek descent, who loves this country, and will eagerly defend, through peaceful non-violent means, its promise of democracy and largely unrealized humane potential.
Our NACCS colleagues have spent decades studying the law, culture, history, economics, and politics of immigration. Many have testified before Congress or before state and federal courts as expert witnesses. To cite just one example, NACCS members were among the expert witnesses for the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of “In Re: Alien Children Education Litigation,” a.k.a. Doe v Plyler, 457 U.S. 202 (1982). As you may recall, the judgment in that case was based on the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the U.S Constitution, and was decisively against the State of Texas Education Code for discriminating against the children of out-of-status parents, many of them U.S.-born citizens. The lesson of that historic case was clear: We can not punish innocent children for acts committed by their parents and still claim to be a free and open society.
Over the past three decades, the social science scholarship on Mexican immigration has arrived at several indisputable conclusions based on overwhelming and systematic empirical evidence: First and foremost, the undocumented immigrant population pays more in taxes than it receives in the form of public services including healthcare and education (see for e.g., Perryman Group 2010). But this is about more than immigrants paying their “fair” share of taxes, without little hope of ever directly benefiting from their substantial contributions. The American Chamber of Commerce (1985) has long proposed that Mexico’s young workforce could be the key to keeping Social Security solvent at a time when the U.S. citizen workforce is retiring with fewer workers available to replace them.
Moreover, it is now indisputable that the post-1994 displacement of rural populations, including the indigenous peoples of Mexico, is the direct result of the implementation of NAFTA. It is equally irrefutable that the people of the Mexican Diaspora are revitalizing inner cities and many nearly abandoned rural towns in the United States. Ask small town mayors in the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, or South, and some will eagerly recount how immigrants have helped revitalize their communities, many of which were literally on the verge of becoming ghost towns. Ask inner city council members in any large U.S. city and they will acknowledge that immigrants bring prosperity, strong family values, and a community-oriented work ethic. Even former President Ronald Reagan understood this when he said: “Hispanics are Republicans; they just don’t know it yet.”
Another significant social science research finding is that undocumented workers stimulate job creation through increased demand for goods and services. Cities with the largest immigrant populations have the lowest unemployment rates in the country (Perryman Group 2010). Much of this economic activity is due to the entrepreneurial spirit of these immigrants who create their own small businesses to serve an ever more diverse and appreciative clientele. In Phoenix, for example, it is very likely that the owner, cook, or waitperson at your favorite restaurant is one of the immigrants that could suffer disparate treatment under SB 1070.
The social scientific community can assert with confidence that undocumented or out-of-status immigrants are taxpayers and they have a net positive impact on the U.S. economy. Indeed, not only are undocumented immigrants continuing to bolster Social Security “with billions,” as The New York Times and other mainstream media widely reported in 2005, but a more recent study suggests that the State of Arizona will stand to lose about 140,000 jobs and close to a billion dollars in state revenue if it enforces SB 1070 (Perryman Group 2010).
Insofar as immigration is a matter of federal and not state law, any reasonable person, even if only vaguely familiar with the U.S. Constitution, understands that SB 1070 violates the Supremacy Clause. This legislation also violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Constitution; the ACLU-Arizona and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) compellingly demonstrated this in letters submitted to you last week. As Anthony Romero, the head of the national ACLU affirms, “Arizona’s new law sacrifices the civil liberties of millions of people living and working in Arizona, while doing nothing to address the real problems the state is facing.” We anticipate with confidence that judicial review will render SB 1070 unconstitutional.
We are compelled to ask: Why did you sign an unconstitutional and inflammatory law? Surely you have read and understand the U.S. Constitution? We can only assess your motives for signing this bill in the context of other recent actions you have undertaken. This includes your active role as Arizona Secretary of State and as a key Republican Party leader and political operative in the efforts, during the 2008 elections, to block your state’s Latina/o voters from exercising their rightful franchise at the polls for presumably failing to prove their citizenship. This is one of the incidents that led to the scandalous and unethical firing of federal attorneys who failed to deliver or prosecute a single case of “illegal alien voter fraud.” This context leads us to conclude that the only reason you signed this law is politics, a politics of fear and hatred, designed – like the contrived alien voter fraud campaign – to deny Latina/o U.S. citizens the right to vote and to block efforts to expand the number of people with a direct legal right to participate in shaping the future of our democracy and commonwealth.
The use of misguided state-level legislation like SB 1070 to score political points with your base or in Washington, DC, even if it is intended to force badly needed and long overdue comprehensive immigration reform, is to play around with people’s lives. We judge this to be immoral and unethical and not just misguided. It demonstrates a lack of respect for the civil rights of Mexican-origin people who are U.S. citizens and the democratic principles of freedom, equal protection, and due process embodied by our Constitution.
SB 1070 is at best an inflammatory law and will surely come to serve as a rationale to justify violent attacks by the misguided against persons who appear to “look illegal.” This is what I call an “ecology of fear” and it is a political and civic climate, deliberately stoked by politicians, that creates an environment of intolerance, fear, insecurity, and hatred that is hostile to any one appearing “foreign” to the self-image of “white Americans” – be it immigrants or people of color in general.
Indeed, it is this ecology of fear that led to the murder of a young legal Ecuadorian immigrant in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn on December 7, 2008. The perpetrators of this crime were white youth who, like those convicted last month on Long Island for a similar crime, were out “Beaner hopping” or hunting for “illegal aliens.” In these difficult economic times, when our Nation’s white youth also invariably face the same stresses and tragedies of structural violence – poverty, unemployment, and lack of access to education or healthcare opportunities – it seems hardly surprising that they might engage in misguided acts of violence under the cover of a draconian law they misconstrue is designed to justify anyone wanting to target “suspect illegal aliens” for harassment or civilian arrest. We can only imagine what the more ideologically extremist and heavily-armed groups like the American Border Patrol and Minutemen are likely to do under the cover of the cloudy civil rights climate this law creates.
When such incidents occur in Arizona, as we predict will be the case because of the climate of racial hostility and hatred fed by SB 1070 in desperate economic times, will you then be prepared to renounce this law as misguided, harmful, and discriminatory? NACCS members expect U.S. elected officials to reject any laws or policies that are blatantly unconstitutional and that could unleash the same type of fury and violence that has given us the Trail of Tears, Wounded Knee, Soviet gulags, Nazi death camps, and the more recent ubiquitous killing fields wrought of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and a continuous “Third World War” waged on indigenous populations in places like Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guatemala, or El Salvador.
How are “random” murders and assaults different from the death toll of a systematic military campaign if the result is still many thousands of innocent dead and injured? How can your government explain the use of low-intensity counter-insurgency tactics, based on a policy of “militarization,” along the Arizona-Mexico border? How is that any different from an incremental approach to ethnic cleansing since such a policy funnels the flow of desperate people into the heat and death chamber of the desert or into the equally heinous realm of forced labor and slavery that undocumented workers are subject to in the Arpaio gulags or under the oppressive yolk of ruthless employers from New York City to Los Angeles? How do you justify this policy to the countless women raped, killed, and mutilated along the entire length of the border by sexual predators, paramilitary groups, ICE officers, and criminal organizations? We must all come to understand that the ecology of fear is a state of exception that suspends the rule of law while encouraging uninformed Americans and others to dehumanize and terrorize innocent human beings who are only guilty of trying to survive under the tyrannically-imposed conditions of a “bare life.”
Many of us have relatives in Arizona who trace their ancestry back to the early 1700s. Are these multigenerational Arizona natives also to be detained under the new law for “looking illegal”? Will you detain and deport Tohono O’odham natives with Spanish surnames and brown skin who are more likely to lack birth certificates or other proof of citizenship? You state that this is not racial profiling. We note your awkward reaction when you were asked to define “looking illegal” by a Chicana journalist at your press conference when you signed the bill. You admitted that you were not able to describe what an “illegal alien” looks like. You then vaguely asserted that there “were people in Arizona” who presumably would be able to make this determination, presumably in an “objective” and non-partisan manner. We must ask then, how you, as the leader of your state, expect anyone else to know the answer to this question. Similarly, we ask how you determined that a law that targets people that “look illegal,” is not a form of racial profiling, given that the average white Arizonan’s stereotype is that these so-called “illegals” are all Mexicans? How are you going to instruct the police to identify the 44 percent of undocumented immigrants in Arizona who are not Mexican or Latina/o? How will the police distinguish an undocumented Irish, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Greek, or Canadian immigrant, from a legal one? Failing to do so will fall short of meeting the standards of heightened judicial scrutiny and SB 1070 will likely be disqualified as an act that perpetuates the creation of a disparate class of persons excluded from Constitutionally-guaranteed equal protection and due process rights by the very nature of the prescribed police actions.
We are aware of the role of FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) in drafting of the language of SB 1070. We are also aware of the funding FAIR has received for decades from the Pioneer Fund, a notorious non-profit foundation that promotes the use of practical eugenics and selective national-origin quota laws as policies to ensure the survival and supremacy of the “white race” as the dominant actor in U.S. culture, society, and politics. The association between the principal architect of the law, Russell Pearce, FAIR, and the Pioneer Fund taints SB 1070 with the legacy of hateful racist ideology. We are also aware that Mr. Pearce has known Nazi Party associates and indeed has enthusiastically greeted them in public venues. The emerging electoral majority and swing-vote bloc comprised of Latina/o and other voters of color in this country, including those in Arizona, will likely consider any elected official that has supported, voted for, or endorsed this unconstitutional law as an unworthy champion of a racist vision of the United States misshapen by those who errantly and fearfully believe it is and must remain a White-Christian nation.
The United States is an inspiring experiment in multi-‘racial’ [sic] Democracy; much of its more noble achievements arose from multicultural public life; the country is also strongly characterized by ecumenical diversity including those persons, families, and communities that do not believe in a Christian Creator or in a God at all. This is for the majority of Americans, including Mexican-origin Americans, a tumultuous, and at times untidy and messy, but ultimately joyous and exhilarating process of cultural change and evolution. For most Americans, and especially for young people in the Millennial Generation, the demographic transition to a “majority of ethnic minorities” is not a calamity or devolution into savagery. It is not the end of history; it is not the beginning of a “wetback” invasion or a fantasy “re-Conquest.” It is not the end of Euro-American cultures or of protestant values; nor is it an end to English as our primary political, administrative, and scientific language. It is instead a step forward in the American Experiment through the inspiring progressive hope and creativity unleashed by the multi-hued rainbow of human energy nurtured by our society’s liberal – and we hope, eventually participatory – democratic traditions. This is the very reason that so many people wish to come to this nation to become part of a wondrous, ever-shifting multicultural and multiethnic mosaic with an unfathomable depth of possible “just” futures.
We therefore urge all of Arizona civil society to embrace the ethical principle that “No Human Being is Illegal,” as stated pro-forma in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. We urge Arizona civil society to publicly endorse and support a policy of comprehensive federal immigration reform that emphasizes the rights of workers, women, and indigenous peoples within the framework of the broader goals of social justice through sustainable and equitable development. We urge Arizonans to declare their support for federal policies that replace the over-militarization of the border and its Arpaio gulags with reforms that address the structural inequities and violence unleashed by NAFTA that resulted in the displacement of more than 8 million farmers and their families – among them people who are now trying to live, work, and survive among us.
These changes are largely consequences of the process of top-down globalization unleashed by treaties like NAFTA, and thus efforts to resolve immigration will ultimately have to address multi-lateral concerns and the broadest societal needs in a climate of equitable negotiations among Mexico, the United States, Canada, and other parties. Arizona civil society groups can actively work through horizontal mobilization with allies across borders to create spaces for meaningful and humane immigration reform that builds on grassroots development programs that directly match the remittances workers send back to their origin communities. Rural Mexico can and must be rebuilt from the grassroots-up and fair-minded Americans can help in this more open and democratic process. Also, a path to naturalized citizenship and other forms of permanent legal status for out-of-status workers currently in the United States should certainly become part of a more progressive vision for comprehensive immigration reform. It is time to stop deporting the families of immigrants who have died fighting for the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is time to reunite the numerous families split by draconian raids and roundups that have steadily increased since 2001. We are all human beings and not one among us all should be treated as cattle to be herded and prodded into holding pens for processing, persecution, and deportation without due process and equal protection under the rule of law.
Finally, because as Governor you signed an unconstitutional law that is a thinly veiled form of institutionalized racial discrimination, NACCS is joining, and widely endorsing, a targeted economic boycott of your state. I use the term ‘targeted’ because we are not abandoning our colleagues, families, friends, and communities in Arizona. Our organization will remain especially vigilant and active in your state as a result of SB 1070 and the National Office and Chair will directly participate in ongoing efforts to hold your state and elected officials accountable through heightened scrutiny of police and elected official misconduct, a “score card” on “democracy-haters,” and other educational, media outreach, and networking events including efforts to help Arizonans understand that “race” is a phantom menace. We are all the same race: The human race. Undocumented workers and their families may be from distinct ethnic and national-origin populations but that does not mean they share some indelible “racial” phenotype or static and homogeneous cultural memory as a people. I close, by noting that we have held our annual national convention in Arizona before (1992, 2000) and we were discussing a return in 2012 or 2013. We do not plan to return any time soon and certainly not until this law is repealed and the State of Arizona rejoins our nation’s humanity in respecting the Constitutional rights of all U.S. citizens and immigrants, whatever their status. The State of Arizona must return to the democratic fold and respect the Equal Protection Clause, part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, that provides that “no state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The original language of the Constitution states “any person within the jurisdiction of,” it does not state, “ONLY citizens need apply.” The due process and equal protection clauses apply to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. This includes undocumented workers, who are in the end the dignified and creative peoples of the NAFTA-induced Mesoamerican Diaspora. They are helping us rebuild a more democratic, resilient, and justice-loving America based on their own blood, sweat, and tears, and dreams. In the end, just like you and me.

Devon G. Peña, Ph.D., Chair (2010-11)
National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies
P.O. Box 720052
San Jose, CA 95972-0052; Email: