What is behind the anti-immigration push and who are the next targets?

( – The fall out over passage of an anti-immigration law in Arizona continued across the United States this week with people wondering is America being reduced to a nation “for Whites only?”

Anti-racism activist and author Tim Wise says a sense of “White racial anxiety,” has in his view, “taken over large segments of White America.”

Protesters called upon President Barack Obama to stop the spread of harsh immigration laws. Activists say Texas and California could be next for anti-immigrant legislation. Photos: Hakeem Khaaliq

According to Mr. Wise, the sense of entitlement that Whites have always enjoyed is being challenged by demographic data showing the growth of Black and Brown populations projected to become equal with the White population by 2050, as well as a change in the political landscape, demonstrated by the first Black president of the United States.

“This idea that White folks give voice to every now and then that they’re losing their country, sometimes they mean with Black folks and the Black president and sometimes they’re referring to Latinos and Brown folks. It seems that though, when White folks say that they’re referring to some nostalgic sentiments of the past that they want to resurrect,” said Mr. Wise.

“They can’t fathom a country wherein they are not the norm, the prototype of what an American is. The way they’ve grown up for years is when they hear the word American, they see their (own) face and people of color have never been able to have that reaction, that when they talk about American, they’re talking about me, but White folks have, so when all of a sudden you’ve got to share that title, that symbol with Black and Brown people that have different names and faith traditions than yours, that shakes them up because they have that sense of entitlement.”

SB 1070, the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, mandates that law enforcement stops anyone they reasonably suspect to be an undocumented immigrant and obtain their documentation. Anyone without it can be arrested, incarcerated, fined, and/or deported.

According to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, the bill signifies that she is for enforcing the law and against racial profiling but immigrant advocates strongly disagree.

“This law is a very racist law and it’s persecuting people of color and very much affecting people of dark complexion. If you do not look Anglo you could be questioned and asked for your documents, but in our cases, even though we are of Afro descent, we have accents but they could ask for documentation from all of us,” and many people are now afraid to even go out of their homes in Arizona, said Eunice Escobar, a board member of the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America and member of the Association of Afro Columbians in Displacement.

“The most important consideration is why is this law passing now? I think there’s really a very strong interest behind it in an attack of America’s new generation of Latino people who are coming into this country and making decisions. Most of these Latinos are dark people and they are looking for a change,” said Ms. Escobar, who is of Afro and Latino descent.

Tim Wise

Part of the fear in America that drives such legislation is the unity of Blacks and Latinos, she said. For instance, the first Black President Barack Obama received a lot of support from Latinos and that makes Whites in America very afraid.

Another example she gave is how Latinos have come out into the streets in record numbers to proclaim their rights. “They thought they were done with this, with the Civil Rights Movement and they didn’t think that minorities would come up again and ask for their rights. They’re afraid of the new possibilities from these new coalitions and new alliances,” she said.

‘(T)he folks who were behind this in Arizona are members of a loosely affiliated set of groups that have a history of White supremacy, White nationalism.’
—Tim Wise,
author and anti-racism activist

Javier Rodriguez, Director of the March 25 Coalition, said that obviously the legislation is a ploy by extreme right wing conservatives within the Republican Party to racially profile immigrants and the Latino population, starting within Arizona.

He concurred that the law is blatantly racist and discriminatory and said that it is unveiling the ultimate aim of the Republican Party’s upcoming national electoral campaign. People must remember that immigration reform is the big prize that they must keep their eyes on, he said.

“The legalization of the 12 million people and their families is the most effective solution to the Arizona bill,” Mr. Rodriguez told The Final Call. He charged that the right wing plan is to create conditions for the undocumented that are so miserable and uncomfortable, people will self deport and to some degree, that occurred in the 1930s and 1950s with Operation Wetback, the United States’ repatriation project that targeted primarily Mexicans.

Under Operation Wetback, the U.S. Border Patrol found more than one million undocumented immigrants when they raided Mexican American barrios in Southeastern states in 1954. They sought identification from “Mexican-looking” citizens they stopped on the streets and ultimately, many immigrants were deported and many others fled the U.S.

Now history is repeating itself and without swift, strategic action, opponents of the bill argued, its negative profiling implications could permeate America’s entire infrastructure, including the Prison Industrial Complex, and its health care and education systems, for starters.

Dr. Wilmer Leon, a Political Science lecturer at Howard University in Washington, D.C., has joined the growing chorus of political analysts to question what other implications loom if SB 1070 is found to be constitutional.

“What will happen in Chicago as that city struggles to get a handle on the recent explosion of murder and mayhem and the alarming levels of violence among its schoolchildren? Will the state of Illinois be allowed to “stop and frisk” and detain individuals simply because law enforcement believes a particular individual fits a certain profile?” he asked in his latest commentary, “Now State Reaction to Illegal Immigration Should Matter to African Americans.”

Not just Arizona

Already, other states are signaling that they could follow Arizona’s suit.

Michael Correll, a counter-protestor, holds up his Texas drivers license as a demonstration of citizenship to illegal immigrants during the mega march in Dallas, Tx., May 1. Photo: AP/Wide World Photos

“There were eight the last time I heard, who are thinking about copy cat legislation,” said Mr. Wise. “One of the things that makes that likely is that the folks who were behind this in Arizona are members of a loosely affiliated set of groups that have a history of White supremacy, White nationalism, like FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), (Sen.) Russell Pearce (R-AZ), the main sponsor in Arizona. Those folks have a connection to a larger network of national groups and individuals. No doubt, Arizona was just a test case,” he added.

On May 5, nearly 100 members of various Hispanic organizations protested outside the Major League Baseball (MLB) game featuring the Houston Astros versus the Arizona Diamondbacks. This is part of an on-going movement to oppose the recent immigration bill passed in Arizona and to send the message, “Not in our backyard,” to Texas lawmakers.

“The SB1070 is legalized racial profiling and we are 100 percent opposed to it,” Michael Espinoza told The Final Call. He is the lead organizer for Houston’s SEIU Justice for Janitors group.

Mr. Espinoza was among those outside Minute Maid Park holding up signs that read “No Human Being Is Illegal,” “Boycott Arizona,” with a slash through the words “SB1070.” He says the local coalition is in agreement with boycotting Arizona-based companies and is demanding that MLB officials reconsider hosting the 2011 All-Star game in Arizona.

A Department of Homeland Security report released earlier this year shows that Texas was second only to California in the number of unauthorized immigrants in 2009, with 1.7 million and 2.6 million respectively. Currently, an estimated one million plus undocumented immigrants live in Texas, which is costing the state $4.5 billion annually.

Amidst the debate of the Arizona immigration bill, Republican lawmaker Debbie Riddle of Tomball, Texas is planning to introduce a tough immigration bill for Texas that will parallel the controversial new laws in Arizona. Rep. Riddle is pushing to present the law in the January 2011 legislative session.

“If our federal government did their job, then Arizona wouldn’t have to take this action, and neither would Texas,” said Rep. Riddle.

Texas Governor Rick Perry agrees in protecting citizens, but has reservations about bringing similar immigration policy to the Lone Star State.

“Recently, there has been much debate over immigration policy in Washington and what has been implemented in Arizona. I fully recognize and support a state’s right and obligation to protect its citizens, but I have concerns with portions of the law passed in Arizona and believe it would not be the right direction for Texas,” said Gov. Perry in a written statement.

“We’re not going to stop protesting. We’re going to keep fighting to make sure that which Rep. Riddle is proposing will not get passed even if it means escalating our tactics,” said Mr. Espinosa.

Some opponents of the bill from within Arizona itself include Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik. According to reports, Chief John Harris of Sahuarita said he opposed the bill before Gov. Brewer even signed it, partly on the basis of manpower and budget issues that would only worsen under the law, and because traditionally, immigration has been a federal issue.

According to Mr. Rodriguez, the most blatant part that is absent from a lot of discussions and debates about the bill is that the sweeping racial profiling powers extend beyond just law enforcement. “The enforcement of identifying and arresting potential (undocumented) immigrants is to be done by any kind of municipal, county, or state institution in the health field, employment department, any department that suspects that anybody is an illegal immigrant, they are obligated by the law to inform ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement),” the activist said.

That would undermine the society by setting up a vast network of informants but ultimately, just like with apartheid in South Africa and fascism in Chile, that might deny people their freedom for a few years, even a decade, but eventually, freedom will be obtained, Mr. Rodriguez said.

A result of America’s own foreign policy

Because America disrupts, or supports countries that work against, the well being of poor people, many people flee their own land for financial benefit in the U.S., Ms. Escobar said. Their only option is to come to the U.S. for a better living and America must change her foreign policy and the way she does business with other countries.

In Columbia, she said, gold mining corporations are exploding the gold mines for the wealth, but the mines are located where Afro Columbians live. Ultimately, people are being displaced, which is what happened to Mexican farmers under the Central and North American Trade Agreement. “They made it impossible for farmers in Mexico to continue farming and when 1.2 million of them could not work anymore, their only option was to come to the U.S.A.,” Ms. Escobar said.

(Jesse Muhammad contributed to this report, from Houston.)

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