“Illegal” Immigration in Arizona: Wong’s Utilitarian Solution

This morning’s Arizona Republic features a front-page article on legislator Barry Wong’s approach to the solution of the ‘illegal’ immigration problem.

Wong, a lawyer and four-term member of the state house of representatives, is running as a Republican for a seat in the Arizona Corporation Commission, a public entity responsible for public utilities regulation. He proposes asking utility companies not to serve ‘illegal’ immigrants.

He contends that

There is a cost ratepayers shouldn’t have to bear because of the illegal immigrant population.

The other two Republican candidates for the seat, and all three Democrats agree that asking utilities “to check customers’ immigration status is inappropriate.”

“I’m sure that there will be criticism about human rights violations,” Wong averred. “Is power or natural gas or any type of utility we regulate, is that a right people have? It is not a right. It is a service.”

I’ve always believed in calling bullshit…… bullshit. Wong’s proposal falls in the latter category. It is ironic that Wong, the son of Chinese immigrants who fled difficult conditions in China, would voice such xenophobic bullshit. How unsettling it is to see that political candidates believe that practically all campaign promises will help them get elected, as long as they are “anti-illegal.”

Sen. Robert Byrd’s Passing and Thoughts on His KKK Legacy

Since the passing of Sen. Robert Byrd, his life has become a kind Rorschach Test that allows people to say what they’re thinking about race.  Given Byrd’s legacy as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, the U.S.’s homegrown terrorist organization, and a member of the Senate, I’ve been curious about how various media outlets would cover the news.

Senator Robert Byrd 1917~2010

(Creative Commons License photo credit: Nevada Tumbleweed!)

The right-leaning blogosphere has been quick to point out what they see as the hypocrisy of a left-leaning mainstream media for “pushing hagiographic narratives” about Robert Byrd’s past  and for failing to call out Byrd for his KKK past, while left-leaning journos and bloggers have grabbed onto the trope that Byrd’s story was one of racial “redemption” as marking “the end of an era in (so-called) race relations.”

Still other observers have parlayed Byrd’s handling of his KKK legacy into an example for business leaders to follow, as in “5 Things Robert Byrd’s Life Teaches Us About Leadership.” (#3. “If your decisions were bad enough, they’ll haunt you to the end.  Although Byrd changed over time, the Klan would haunt him until the end.”)

Lots of eulogies are like this one at Politico.com, which calls Byrd a “venerable institution” and this one at the New York Times which calls him a “pillar” –  both referring to Byrd’s career in the Senate.   This is completely understandable given Byrd’s record as the longest-serving senator.  From my perspective, his vote against the Iraq war was a heroic stance and one I was heartened to see at the time.  But it’s his years as not just a member, but a leader of the Ku Klux Klan that I want to address here because I think that legacy can tell us something important about racism in the U.S.    Here’s the account from the New York Times obituary (June 28, 2010):

In the early 1940s, he organized a 150-member klavern, or chapter, of the Klan in Sophia, W.Va., and was chosen its leader. Afterward, Joel L. Baskin, the Klan’s grand dragon for the region, suggested that Mr. Byrd use his “talents for leadership” by going into politics.  “Suddenly, lights flashed in my mind!” Mr. Byrd later wrote. “Someone important had recognized my abilities.”

Mr. Byrd insisted that his klavern had never conducted white-supremacist marches or engaged in racial violence. He said in his autobiography that he had joined the Klan because he shared its anti-Communist creed and wanted to be associated with the leading people in his part of West Virginia. He conceded, however, that he also “reflected the fears and prejudices” of the time.

Byrd apologized repeatedly for his involvement with the KKK as a “sad mistake.”  However, he was largely allowed to skate on a number of issues related to his membership in the Klan.  This is a reprieve that, frankly, would never happen today.    For example, it’s not really clear exactly when he left the Klan, nor was he pressed to disavow his views when he went from being an official member of the KKK to when he was an upstanding (conservative) member of the Senate.   While praise has been heaped on him from the left since his passing, his KKK-inspired views influenced his actions well into his tenure in the Senate.

In 1964, he voted against the Civil Rights Act, which he declared was a violation of “States’ Rights.”  And, in 1967, Byrd voted against Thurgood Marshall’s Supreme Court nomination.  Byrd even approached J. Edgar Hoover (director of the FBI) to see if Marshall had any Communist ties that could ruin his nomination.   This is especially ironic today when Thurgood Marshall’s legacy as a Supreme Court justice is under attack by Senator Kyl in the Kagan hearings. Kyl and the Republicans want to go back to a regressive stance, in many ways replicating the very politics of the Citizen’s Council and the KKK.

In a different supreme court vote in 1991, Byrd voted against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and said, quite famously, “I believe Anita Hill.” Perhaps even more remarkably, Byrd called out Clarence Thomas for his deeply cynical use of the term “high tech lynching” to refer to the confirmation hearings and basically accused him of “playing the race card.”  Oh, the irony runs deep and wide here.

As late as 2001, Byrd got in a lot of trouble for an interview for “Fox News Sunday” in which he said the following when asked about “race relations”:

“They are much, much better than they’ve ever been in my lifetime,” Byrd said, but added that he believed people talk about race too much.

“My old mom told me, ‘Robert, you can’t go to heaven if you hate anybody.’ We practice that. There are white niggers. I’ve seen a lot of white niggers in my time. I’m going to use that word. We just need to work together to make our country a better country, and I’d just as soon quit talking about it so much.”

Of course, what he got into trouble for is the use of a slur – but it’s what’s at the end of the quote that’s telling, “I’d just as soon quit talking about it so much.”  In many ways, this marks the real move of Sen. Byrd into the mainstream of race-talk in the U.S.  This is where most people are around race in the U.S., they’d just as soon quit talking about it so much.  And, that goes double for any discussion having to do with actual KKK or white supremacist groups, people in the U.S. prefer to not talk about these and pretend they don’t exist.

By 2008, Sen. Byrd was endorsing a fellow Senator, Barack Obama, for President.   This unlikely friendship is the almost irresistible coda to Byrd’s life, as if to say, “it doesn’t matter that he was a leader in the KKK, he was friends with Obama.” This friendship is what ultimately marks Sen. Byrd as “not racist” in the public imagination.

But, the whole narrative of “redemption” rings a bit hollow to me.   It’s not that I don’t think redemption is possible, I do.  I’m just not persuaded by the evidence in Byrd’s case.

To me, what’s compelling in Byrd’s life is that he appeared to at least give some thought — more than most privileged white folks do — about race.  He seemed to make some move toward transformation of his own views on race, however flawed, self-serving, and incomplete those efforts were.  Yet, we actually learned so little of what this process was like and what drove him to engage in this process.  Even in his own account of his KKK leadership he attributes the pull to “anti-Communism” rather than anything to do with race, or his own racism. Of course, all is made whole in the end because of his friendship with one (extraordinary) black man.

There is much that’s lost, however, in the stories being told about Sen. Byrd’s legacy – from the right and from the left –  in the days since his passing.  From the right, there’s a harangue that it’s “hypocritical” to call out racism among some politicians (e.g., Strom Thurmond, Trent Lott – R) but not others (e.g., Robert Byrd-D).   And, indeed it is.   But this doesn’t amount to “racism” on the left.

On the left, the hagiography obfuscates what is actually a complicated, nuanced, imperfect story about race, racism and civil rights, and replaces it with one that’s denuded of the ugliness of actual racism.

The facts of Sen. Byrd’s life are that he was both a leader of the KKK and a leader in the Senate.  His views changed some, but not completely, as he moved from one of these American institutions to the other.  And, for a considerable portion of his life – and the better part of the 20th century – there was considerable overlap between his views in the KKK and his views as Senator.    The sooner we come to terms with Sen. Byrd’s KKK legacy, and the ways that white supremacy are woven into the very fabric of this nation’s institutions, the sooner we can set to work dismantling the vestiges of that legacy.

No Post-Racial America: Racial Inequalities in US Medicine

Over at diversityinc.com, Gail Zoppo has an important post—“Is There a Black, Latino Doctor in the House?”– on the huge problem of lack of people of color in U.S. medical schools and professions. Racial inequality remains central in the medical professions and facilities in this “post-racial America.” We still have relatively few black, Latino, and Native American medical students across the country. Zoppo underscores the slow pace of improvement, noting that three years these groups made up only 15 percent of the 40,000 applicants to U.S. medical schools, even as they make up a third of the U.S. population in their typical age range. (She does not discuss data on Asian Americans in her post.) This is a key result from this longterm reality:

That same year, only 8.7 percent of doctors were from these underrepresented groups, according to a study published in the Journal of Academic Medicine.

She then discusses where we are at in the recent American Association of Medical Colleges data, just slight changes since 2006:

Among the 42,269 med-school applicants in 2009, only 16 percent were Black, Latino or American Indian.

Other medical professions are also characterized by a lack of black, Latino, and Native American personnel:

… a mere 6.9 percent of people from underrepresented groups ended up as dentists in 2007, only 9.9 percent were pharmacists and just 6.2 percent were registered nurses.

One national issue is also that white medical personnel are much less likely to work in undeserved communities of color:

Black, Latino and American Indian/Pacific Islander physicians are nearly three to four times more likely than whites to practice in underserved communities, reports the AAMC.

On the positive side, Zoppo does discuss some important attempts to deal with this underrepresentation in medical schools and professions, such as the Rutgers University Office for Diversity and Academic Success in the Sciences (ODASIS)

Anna’s Story: Latino Counter Frames to Racism, and the Importance of Language & Culture

Anna grew up the youngest daughter in of Mexican immigrants who earned a meager living as farmer workers in Burley, Idaho. Who would have imagined she would become a successful attorney in a city like Seattle? Who would have imagined she would win the 2009 King County Bar Association’s Pro Bono award—an award usually reserved for attorneys from the big firms, not for lawyers in solo practice who devote themselves to the area of labor law helping undocumented workers collect wages they are owed? Who would have imagined she would unexpectedly become the legal guardian and new mom of her niece’s three- year-old son because her niece was shot and killed by her husband and the father is in jail?

As Anna recalls the experiences that motivated her to go to law school, she notes they weren’t all pleasant. Her reasons stemmed mostly from witnessing her parent’s being treated terribly. She hated that they weren’t treated fairly when they worked in the fields, whether it was in the sugar beets, the beans, or in the potato fields. Remembering the conditions in the fields made her cry, particularly when she described having to take their own toilet paper because they didn’t have bathrooms, or when the ranchers would give them unfair and illegal rules such as only allowing them fifteen minute lunch breaks. What was worse, she stressed, was that her parent’s would be even stricter by imposing only a ten-minute lunch on her and her family so that the rancher wouldn’t get mad at them for taking lunch at all. Her dad was always particularly cautious when it came to the ranchers or bosses because he didn’t have any power or rights. And that lack of power for her dad is what made her want to go on to law school.

As an undergraduate she told her advising professor that she was interested in going to law school. Her professor told her flat out that she didn’t have what it takes to be a lawyer. Of course, as a Latina from her socio-economic and racialized background, she had heard this kind of “advice” from her teachers before. While it made her angry, she didn’t internalize it. She had stopped doing this a long time ago. Instead she told herself that this political science professor didn’t know what he was talking about. After all, he wasn’t a lawyer. When she was offered an opportunity to attend Gonzaga University’s Summer Pre-law program and her life took off. It was at Gonzaga that she met other Latinas from different regions of the country, all from farm worker backgrounds and they understood each other. They knew the same Mexican musicians, they could speak Spanish, they shared many of the same experiences (including many of the same reasons for wanting to go to law school), they understood the same jokes, and they were all Latinas who were driven and ambitious and wanted to succeed. For the first time in her life, Anna felt comfortable and at peace with others from her culture who were also ambitious and driven.

Windy Field
(Creative Commons License photo credit: crowdive)

However it wasn’t easy. Her first year in law school was a difficult one. She was going through a divorce from a very controlling husband. She was having a lot of health problems from all the stress. In addition, there were family obligations and pressures to contend with during that crucial first year of law school: her oldest brother got into trouble with the law, her other brother became seriously ill with diabetes, her youngest brother’s family life was falling apart, and her mother had to return to Mexico because her aunt had passed away. So she was dealing with all these family pressures and problems and went to the Dean of the law school to see what would happen if she would just drop out that year. When the Dean told her that if she quit, she would not be guaranteed a spot the following year. At the time the doctors weren’t sure of her medical diagnosis, so they couldn’t postpone her final exams on medical grounds, and she knew she would just get further and further behind. She either had to finish the year or quit law school altogether. She decided to make it through her first year final examinations. She recalls that during one final examination she actually just put her head down and started to write her exam and to cry. She wrote the whole exam with her head on her desk while crying. Somehow she passed it. Somehow she passed all her exams that year and she made it through her first year of law school when at times getting to class was all she could handle.

After earning her law degree she returned to Idaho to try to help farm workers, but in many ways she felt she was in a straight jacket. Due to the systemic institutional racism that farm workers lived under, she felt as if all she could do was say, “I can’t help you” in Spanish. She described the story of people coming to her telling her that a brother was in Mexico because the rancher called immigration to avoid paying him, but since the brother was no longer in the country, she couldn’t collect his wages for him. She recalled another example of being powerless to help when a farm worker was injured on the job, because farm workers couldn’t receive workers compensation since farm work was exempt from workers compensation at that time. Frustrated and ready to leave Idaho behind, she was offered a position at the Northwest Justice Project in Seattle and took it. Now in solo practice, she has been practicing law in Seattle ever since.

Although far removed from the suffering she and her family experienced as farm workers, and far removed from many of the obstacles she had to overcome to attend and complete law school, Anna’s story is the story of many Latinos who must balance their lives in American culture by doing what is necessary to succeed, while at the same time, trying not to let the process of success change them in ways that are antithetical to traditional Latino culture and values. Her story highlights that for many first generation Latino professionals, the Latino culture is critical for survival and for success, it is the foundation and the motivation for all that they do. However, it also shows that because Latinos as a group are situated in a disadvantaged position in society, Latino professionals are never too far from the pain and dysfunction found in their communities of origin. It seems there is always a crisis when you come from a poor immigrant family without many rights in society.

Often the economic pressures, the cultural expectations of being available to the family (no matter what the situation may be), the fear of the unknown—many times from the parents’ negative experiences in a racist and unkind society, and the need to become too individualistic or too “Americanized,” make it extremely difficult for Latino professionals. In Latino culture one’s family comes first. La familia is one of the most noble and honored priorities of the culture.

Anna’s story of growing up in a farm worker immigrant household in Idaho to becoming such a successful attorney that won the King County Bar Association’s Pro Bono Award, to raising her niece’s three year old son as her own son demonstrates that if you don’t give up, if you are there for the family, if you fight the good fight, then you can become a great success. But it isn’t easy. You have to be strong enough to resist the stereotyping, the questioning, and the racialization you encounter in your new professional role. And at the same time, you have to be available to drop everything you are doing and help out your family or it can be seen as an act of betrayal to your family that you’re not there for them. This is a lot to balance. However, as Anna looks back on her life now, she realizes that part of her is and will always be drawn back to her roots, to her family, and to her culture. She hopes she can instill this cultural strength in her new son as her parents did for her, because in the end her culture is what helped her persevere.

Anna’s story is reflective of many of the stories I heard from the Latinos I interviewed. Her experiences demonstrate not only the white discrimination and opposition her and her family encountered over and over again, but her story is also reflective of the many strategies of resistance Latinos use to confront the racial, class, and gender oppression they experience. Chou and Feagin observe that “among all groups of color, only African Americans have managed to create a strong counterframe and to teach it to successive generations” Yet they discovered in their study of Asian Americans, that communities of color such as Asians are displaying acts of resistance even if they are not direct. Similarly, the Latino respondents in this study are also actively resisting the negative framing of who they are. Often the strategies of resistance to the openly anti-Latino climate in America begin at home. Like Anna’s parents, most of the Latinos in this study came from families who wanted them to lay low and not to make waves. Why: because as an immigrant family, one doesn’t make waves or draw attention to themselves. However, one thing many of the parents insisted upon was that that the respondents learn and speak Spanish at home. Speaking Spanish become a way for them to maintain some sort of semblance of dignity when everything around them told them that they were inferior.

Professor Ron Schmidt understands this well when he writes, “Despite the controversy surrounding English-only debates, the importance of language, identity, and culture go hand-in-hand.” Professor Schmidt argues that language is central to one’s identity; to attack it is to attack the person. He states, “[I]f language, for example, becomes an important marker of ethnic identity, then language policy represents one avenue through which to gain greater public recognition and respect for a particular ethnic community” (p. 53).He is absolutely right. Nearly half of the Latino respondents in this study spoke Spanish as a first language and over thirty percent indicated that they currently speak both English and Spanish within both their family settings and social occasions.

Language and cultural maintenance become heroic acts of resistance on the part of immigrants and their children who often have so few rights.

~ This post is an excerpt from a book manuscript by Dr. Mária Chávez, Assistant Professor, Pacific Lutheran University

Judith Butler Refuses Award at Berlin Pride Citing Racism

Last week, noted  social critic and philosophy professor Judith Butler refused the Berlin Civil Courage Award saying, “I must distance myself from this racist complicity” (h/t @blacklooks via Twitter).   Butler was referring to anti-immigrant media campaigns that repeatedly represent migrants as ‘archaic’, ‘patriarchal’, ‘homophobic’, violent, and unassimilable while at the same time prominent (white) gay organizations in Berlin encourage a heightened police presence in gay neighborhoods where there are more people of color.  The group SUSPECT condemned white gay politics and applauded Butler’s refusal saying:

It is this tendency of white gay politics, to replace a politics of solidarity, coalitions and radical transformation with one of criminalization, militarization and border enforcement, which Butler scandalizes, also in response to the critiques and writings of queers of colour. Unlike most white queers, she has stuck out her own neck for this. For us, this was a very courageous decision indeed.

SUSPECT is a new group of queer and trans migrants, Black people, people of color and allies whose aim is to monitor the effects of hate crimes debates and to build communities which are free from violence in all its interpersonal and institutional forms.

(Creative Commons License photo credit: thomasderzweifler)

Angela Davis, noted scholar, activist and UC-Santa Cruz professor, has also voiced support for Butler’s refusal of the prize, saying “I hope Judith Butler’s refusal of the award will act as a catalyst for more discussion about the impact of racism even within groups which are considered progressive”  (h/t @blacklooks via Twitter).

There’s certainly room for such a discussion about race and racism in the white LGBT community here in the U.S., and surprisingly little analysis of it to date.   As I noted back in November 2008, the racism among white gay marriage supporters is a problem.   Prominent white gay men such as Dan Savage make a good living off of saying ignorant, racist crap while claiming the “oppression” card.   This is not to say that people who identify as LGBT are not oppressed in the U.S. and around the world, in fact, there’s quite a lot of evidence to support this claim, including the murder and torture of people because they are same-gender-loving.   This is a human rights issue, and a global one.

What Dan Savage and other privileged white gay men fail to understand is the way one struggle is connected to another.  In part, I think this is because they fail to see the ways that sexuality and race are intertwined.  When you begin to see this, it shifts our understanding of oppression.  Rather than seeing “blacks” and “gays” as somehow distinct, disparate groups, such an analysis allows you to recognize the reality of black and brown LGBT lives (such as the recently out entertainer Ricky Martin, who is both gay and Puerto Rican).   And, such an analysis makes visible the white privilege that still adheres to the lives of LGBT folks like Savage.  The challenge then, for white LGBT folks, is whether they are going to continue to wage a campaign for the rights of some or whether we will join the struggle for LGBT human rights with other human rights struggles.

What’s maddening about the ignorance around race among white LGBT people, is that it represents such a lost opportunity for – as SUSPECT points out in their statement – a “politics of solidarity, coalitions and radical transformation” and replaces it with one of criminalization, militarization and border enforcement.  What might this look like?  As just one example, the organization Immigration Equality, is coming out against Arizona’s draconian immigration law:

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community knows all too well how easily people who “look different” can be singled out for harassment and prosecution. In addition, LGBT immigrant families are too familiar with the double burden of immigration discrimination. Now Arizona’s LGBT families have yet another reason to be alarmed. The state’s new law threatens to tear apart families, separate children from their parents and rip apart loving couples who are building their lives together. Forty percent of LGBT binational couples in the United States include a Latino family member. For them, and their loved ones, Arizona is now the most dangerous place in America.

As people in New York City and around the U.S. celebrate Pride today, my hope is that we will all embrace a politics of solidarity, coalitions and transformation.

U.S. Takes a Step Towards Righting the Wrong

On September 17, 2007, after 30 years of debate and discussion, the United Nations passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Only 4 countries voted against the resolution, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Since then New Zealand and Australia have endorsed the resolution. In March, Canada’s Governor General, in the Speech from the Throne (the Canadian equivalent of the State of the Union) endorsed the resolution and committed Canada’s official support.

The United States, now the only nation still in opposition, has announced a series of hearings through the Secretary of State’s office to review the U.S. position. These hearings began June 21 and will continue through October. After three plus decades, one has to wonder what there is left to discuss for the better part of another year. Every nation in the U.N. has now conceded at least a neutral position on this basic affirmation of human rights to indigenous peoples. Eleven nations abstained on the original vote and most of these have since expressed support.

The hearings target tribal leaders, non-governmental organizations and federal agencies for input. There is no explanation as to why NGO’s should be consulted on granting basic human rights to an entire group of people. For that matter, the question remains as to why federal agencies should have the power to withhold those rights or abridge them.

It is fashionable in liberal circles to blame so many things on the Bush Administration, and they rightfully deserve much of that blame. However, these tactics began long before that and continue beyond it. The current progressive leadership in the House, Senate and White House have certainly drug their feet in righting the wrong where indigenous people are concerned. Last fall, the Interior Department announced the settlement of the Cobell case for mismanagement of Native funds. The suit was settled for less than 10 cents on the dollar of what was owed and still has yet to be paid out.

Now, the United States, standing alone in opposition to human rights for First Nations wants another year to discuss the resolution. My friends in Indian Country are cautiously hopeful. They are also cognizant of the propensity for this country to issue politically correct press releases while withholding meaningful action.

This review is a long overdue step in the right direction. It is, however, only a step. It must be followed by many more steps. As the ceremony season continues across Indian Country many prayers and sacrifices are being offered up for a sincere and true completion to this matter.

Arizona’s SB 1070 and the State’s Minimum Wage

U.S. citizens uncertain about Arizona’s new immigration law would do well to remember who has been doing the actual hard labor under the hot desert sun long before Arizona became a state in 1912. Like the rest of the U.S., Arizona was initially Native American land. It used to be part of the Territory of New Mexico. During Lincoln’s administration, Congress made it a separate territory in 1863. Both Arizona and New Mexico have been territories of the U.S. since 1848, following President Polk’s two-year war with Mexico. At that juncture, Arizona had less than 1,000 Hispanics, 4,040 “Indians,” and 2,421 whites. 1848 was the same year the famous Kit Carson rounded up the Navajo with the help of American soldiers and the Ute. After, 8,000 Navajo were forced to undertake the Long Walk to the Bosque Redondo Reservation in New Mexico. The Navajo were permitted to return in 1868, but the Apache continued to resist until the Chiricahua were forcibly relocated to Florida in 1886. Today, more than 14 tribes live on 20 reservations, and Arizona reminds us of Geronimo and Cochise, the great chiefs who fought Indian removals. Although initially sparsely populated, Arizona has been slowly transformed from the wild, unbearably sun-scorched terrain it used to offer residents to the moment the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix air-conditioned the hotel in 1962. Indeed, the air-conditioner is most responsible for turning Arizona into a tourist destination, enhancing the state’s economic engines in copper, cotton, cattle, citrus, and electronics. Two-thirds of the U.S.’s copper is still mined there, and mining has been king since gold and silver dwindled and electricity gave the metal value in the 1870s.

When mining, cotton, cattle and citrus were introduced, who largely provided the work force? Arizona’s economy has always depended on the region’s minority people for cheap common labor, on Native Americans and on the Spanish-speakers who have lived in the desert long before Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. Arizona has always offered more work opportunities than residents can handle, and for that reason it used to welcome and even encouraged Mexicans to cross the border to help upgrade its ranches and farms. That commerce progressively altered Arizona from a suffocating wilderness used by outlaws into a chic, spa-and-golf environment used by movie stars and the rich since Marilyn Monroe lounged at the Biltmore.

That is why Arizona’s recent SB 1070 law is so stunning and incomprehensible. Arizona, of course, is not the only state or part of the country that has relied on immigrant, cheap labor to turn our economies into global world market leaders. Texas, California–name most states or U.S. regions–and economists will tell us that cheap, foreign-hands labor has been in there doing the hard manual work needed to transform society’s infrastructure, promoting and giving visibility to “Progress.” Since many “illegal aliens” historically leave their countries to throw in their fates and the futures of their children with the regions that have employed their skills and talents for generations, isn’t it rather thankless now to disinvite and actually to throw them out of the U.S.? These workers have long survived on pauper’s wages. Our country has labeled them “illegal,” allowing our citizens to pay the “aliens” whatever we have wanted. But since January 1, 2009, Arizonians have had to pay them at least $7.25 per hour of work, too. Illegal workers interviewed by Univision now say that not enough people are hiring them off the curbs where for years they used to be picked up to cut grass, repair homes, and provide other services. How fair is it to use language–to mix our good, reliable workers with “terrorists” and “drug gangsters,” as Arizona’s new immigration law does? What SB 1070 underscores is that whites who voted for it enjoy being domineering.

Marco Portales is a Texas A&M professor and author of Why Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata Wore Cananas: A 100th Year Photo History of the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1928. (Copies available from mportales@tamu.edu)

Structural Racism and Mass Deportation

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a goal of deporting 400,000 people from the United States every year. The policy of DHS to deport as many people as possible is advertised as a measure that enhances national security. The way that mass deportation is implemented, however, leads to the disproportionate deportation of black Caribbeans and Latin Americans. Because of the disproportionate impact of deportation on black and Latino immigrants, the policy of mass deportation is another manifestation of racial inequality in the United States.

(image from here.)

The overwhelming majority of the 12 million undocumented people in the United States are not in deportation proceedings. Some undocumented migrants, particularly East Asians, are very unlikely to ever be apprehended and deported. In 2007, there were about 230,000 undocumented South Koreans in the United States. Only 417 Koreans were deported from the United States in 2007. In that same year, there were about 280,000 undocumented Hondurans in the United States. Yet, 29,737 Hondurans were deported. In 2007, there were slightly more undocumented Chinese and Filipinos in the United States than Hondurans. However, only 408 Filipinos and 766 Chinese were deported. This is indicative of a trend – Latin Americans are much more likely than Asians to be deported.

Given that DHS claims to be making the nation safer through deportation, it is remarkable that they almost never deport people to countries which the U.S. Department of State identifies as sponsoring terrorism – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba, North Korea, and Sudan. In 2007, for example, 319,382 people were deported. Among these were 49 Iranians, 27 Iraqis, 40 Syrians, 76 Cubans, and 13 Sudanese. (Data were not available for Libya and North Korea.) Instead, deportees are most often sent to countries with which the United States has amicable relations – our allies in the Western Hemisphere. Human Rights Watch reports that 897,099 people were deported on criminal grounds between April 1, 1997, and August 1, 2007, and that 94 percent of these people were from just ten countries, all in the Western Hemisphere – Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Colombia, Jamaica, Canada, Brazil, and Haiti,

The laws that have led to mass deportation were created in the context of fears of a racialized other. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which lay the groundwork for much of present-day undocumented migration and employment, was the result of nativist concerns over rising numbers of undocumented immigrants in the United States. The 1996 laws, which expanded the grounds for deportation, were an outgrowth of Proposition 187, a California initiative with many racial overtones. The Homeland Security Act, which allowed for the funding of mass deportation, came about in the context of fear of terrorists, often racialized as Middle Eastern. Although these laws are color-blind on the books, both their enactment and implementation are tainted by implicit and explicit acts of racism.

As Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro (among other scholars) explain, it is not necessary for laws to use explicitly racial language to reproduce racial inequalities. Insofar as laws, policies, and institutions create inequitable outcomes in their implementation, they can be considered part of the structural racism that has pervaded U.S. society since its inception.

A Matter of Technicality, Not Racial Contestation: The Coming SB 1070 Challenge

It appears the Obama Administration and Justice Department will be challenging Arizona’s immigration law, otherwise known as SB 1070, although no lawsuit has been filed yet.

If recent events are any indication, the forthcoming lawsuit will frame immigration as a national issue that requires a federal, not state, response.  In a recent interview, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented, “[Obama] thinks that the federal government should be determining immigration policy.” These comments were further corroborated by President Barack Obama, himself, when he first openly criticized the law. He said, “If we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts [like Arizona] opening up around the country.” Further preview of the lawsuit to come was offered by Randal Archibold and Mark Landler of The New York Times. According to them, legal scholars say the Obama Administration and Justice Department have a stronger case if they argue that Arizona intruded upon what ought to be federally regulated.

As these accounts foreshadow, the merits of the pending challenge will likely be on grounds of federal versus states’ rights. At face value, this is certainly good news to those who oppose SB 1070. However, the grounds in which this case will likely be built has complicated implications for racial/ethnic issues. If such a challenge is solely built on the notion that immigration is a federal issue, then it will ignore the proverbial elephant in the room that made this law controversial in the first place: racial profiling.

Under SB 1070, Arizona lawmakers have enabled local police enforcement to approach anyone who they “reasonably suspect” to be of illegal status and verify their citizenship. Furthermore, this law enables local police enforcement to detain anyone they reasonably suspect to be in the U.S. illegally. Because reasonable suspicion remains undefined, this broadens what tactics can be employed to enforce the new law. As critics argue, this not only encourages police to rely upon racial and ethnic markers such as skin tone and language to enforce immigration law, but it gives them legal justification to racially profile.

If the Obama Administration and Justice Department file suit against SB 1070 on grounds of federal versus state authority, they virtually leave racial profiling unchallenged. 1

This is problematic because racial profiling is discriminatory as it targets individuals on the basis of group assumptions. And these group assumptions often times are faulty generalizations that depend upon stereotypes. All Latina/os or “Latina-looking” people are not illegal migrants, but SB 1070 enables law enforcement to presume such individuals as guilty until proven innocent. Instead of condemning racial profiling, the Obama Administration and Justice Department will likely change the subject and frame this law as an issue of how government authority should be delegated.

A failure to openly contest racial profiling reinforces a central feature of color-blind racism: the minimization of racial discrimination. When people buy into this post-racial fantasyland, as Eduardo Bonilla-Silva contends, they understand racial discrimination as more of a historical fact than a contemporary living nightmare for folks of color. Rather than address mountains of evidence (see Karen Glover and Katheryn Russell-Brown) that detail the persistence – and limits – of racial profiling, it remains unaddressed and thus the racial status quo is maintained. By remaining silent, the Obama Administration and Justice Department implicitly dismiss the enduring presence of such racial discrimination within the criminal justice system.

If the Justice Department wins its forthcoming lawsuit on grounds that immigration is a federal issue, then SB 1070 will have been defeated by technicality. Though this would successfully nullify this racist law, it’s premature to bring out the champagne glasses just yet. Turning your back on a problem does not make that problem go away. The merits of racial profiling must be openly contested for SB 1070 to be genuinely defeated in the name of racial progress. Such a task is cumbersome, but it is necessary if America is to become closer to the ideal that many have dreamed. In the hopeful words of Langston Hughes, let America be the land it could be:

“O, let America be America again

The land that never has been yet

And yet must be

the land where every man is free….

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath—America will be!”

1 Though I have critical reservations about this legal strategy due to its racial implications, it may very well prove to be most effective. If the Obama Administration and the Justice Department squarely tackled the unconstitutionality of racial profiling, they run the risk of a conservative U.S. Supreme Court dismissing their claim on grounds of precedent: the 1975 ruling of the United States v. Brignoni-Ponce. For this case, the Court essentially legalized racial profiling by enabling police to use someone’s racial appearance as grounds for stopping and searching motorists. Michelle Alexander points this out in her new book: “In that case the Court concluded that the police could take a person’s Mexican appearance into account when developing reasonable suspicion that a vehicle may contain undocumented immigrants.”

Kasey Henricks, Master’s Student, Sociology Department, Loyola University Chicago

Programming Alert: “Disturbing the Universe” on PBS

Back in December, I noted the new documentary “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe.” about the famous (or, infamous) civil rights lawyer.  Now, the film is airing on PBS in most areas of the U.S. on Tuesday (6/22/10).  I’m glad to see this film getting a wider audience through its distribution on PBS because I think that it’s a good introduction to thinking about race and institutional racism more critically.

Woven into the narrative about Kunstler’s life and transformation into a civil rights rabblerouser, the film tells a number of other stories.   The film provides a compelling history of the uprising at Attica, where Kunstler negotiated on behalf of the (predominantly black) prisoners.  And, the film also chronicles Kunstler’s involvement in the seige at Wounded Knee where he served as a negotiator for Native Americans in AIM who were staging a protest there, demanding that the U.S. Government honor centuries of broken treaties.   Kunstler was able to help avoid a massacre there and successfully defended Russell Banks and Dennis Banks, two of the leaders of the protest, at their subsequent trial in federal court.   Later, Kunstler defends Yusef Salaam, one of the so-called “Central Park Joggers,” who was exonerated, after being incarcerated for many years.

The filmmakers are Kunstler’s two daughters – Sarah Kunstler and Emily Kunstler – and they do a good job of providing a thoughtful portrait of their father as a passionate but flawed man.  Their film also offers a much needed reminder of what it looks like to do battle against institutionalized racism.

To find the film on your tv-machine, check your local PBS listing and set the DVR.