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Special Report: The Arizona EffectSalem-News.com
Mexico's President says the bill represents an obstacle for the solution of common problems in the border region.
(LAS CRUCES, N.M.) - In a controversial move, Arizona’s state legislature and Governor Jan Brewer have re-injected the immigration question back into the center of US politics. Some hailed Brewer’s April 23 signing of Senate Bill 1070 (SB 1070), which criminalizes undocumented persons in the state and gives local police the authority to demand documents from and arrest any individual suspected of being in the US illegally.
“I applaud Jan Brewer and the State of Arizona,” said Jim Gilchrist, founder and president of the Minuteman Project. “It is about time States exercised their right to control their own laws and not use the excuse of, ‘It’s a federal issue to hide behind’”
In a message, the Minuteman Project appealed for support and proclaimed it was “Time To Gear-up For The Coming Border War.”
Many others, however, from a wide breadth of the political spectrum, slammed the new law. Opponents contend SB 1070 will lead to massive racial profiling, foster civil rights abuses and worsen police-community relations in immigrant and ethnic communities.
“It’s a tragedy,” said Blanca Torres, longtime human rights activist from El Paso, Texas. “I just hope the national movement is strong enough to oppose the hate and racism that exists in this country.”
Pro-immigrant activists like Torres rapidly took to the streets to protest the new law. At El Paso’s annual Cesar Chavez march and rally held on April 24, opposition to the Arizona legislation was an electrifying theme for demonstrators who ranged from elderly veterans of the Bracero Program to youthful members of the local Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan. A sign that proclaimed “We are All Arizona” summed up the mood of the day.
After marching through downtown El Paso, more than 100 demonstrators gathered at the Border Agricultural Workers Center near the US-Mexico border. Carlos Marentes, center director and veteran farm labor advocate, blasted SB 1070 as a step towards fascism in the US.
When Governor Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, Marentes had just returned from an international climate change conference in Bolivia. There, delegates from across the planet considered new grassroots strategies to reverse environmental destruction, cultivate an ecologically-centered agricultural system and build a new economy.
According to Marentes, the attendees also heard Bolivian President Evo Morales expound on the worldwide importance of migrants and analyze the difference between “community” socialism and the state socialism of the Soviet era.
“You are with 20,000 people in Cochabama talking about a different kind of society,” Marentes said in an interview with Frontera NorteSur.
“And then you return to the US and suddenly feel that not only have we not made progress in the US, but (we) are following the example of Arizona and moving into a kind of fascism.”
Marentes contended that border communities are under triple attack. On the Mexican side of the border, human rights violations committed by soldiers and killings carried out by narcos threaten the population, he said, while on the US side an ever-harsher security regime deprives people of their rights and freedoms.
Chatting outside the farmworkers’ center prior to the rally, the stories of two ex-braceros might well have portrayed the emerging situation described by Marentes. Both residents of Ciudad Juarez, the men agreed that they could be hit by a stray bullet at any time on any day in their violence-torn city. For security reasons, neither man wanted his name in print.
The youngest of the pair, aged 74, recalled the ease of traveling back and forth between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso with legal work authorization decades ago. Nowadays, the former braceros navigate a daily landscape replete with soldiers, federal police, outlaw gunmen, border security guards, bureaucratic rules, high-tech cameras, barbed wire, and metal fences.
Only the day before the Cesar Chavez commemoration, yet another body of an apparently doomed migrant was recovered from El Paso’s Franklin Canal, the deadly cement-lined ribbon of water that runs parallel to the Rio Grande.
As the old braceros talked, a long line of people waiting to cross into the US backed up on the pedestrian lane of the international Santa Fe Bridge that overlooks the farmworker center.
Turning out for the rally, El Paso resident Oscar Chan said Governor Brewer, who cited Mexican drug cartels and human traffickers as justifications for signing SB 1070, was confused about immigration. “She thinks the Mexican is the problem, but it’s not the Mexican,” Chan said. “Most of the people come here to work, not do bad things.” Chan blamed US drug consumption habits and arms trafficking for fueling violence in Mexico.
A former used goods salesman, Chan exemplifies the cross-cultural identity and national complexity of the US-Mexico borderland. The son of a Chinese father, Chan was born in El Paso but raised in Ciudad Juarez. Later, he returned to El Paso with the goal of instilling the English language in his children.
The El Paso demonstration was part of a wave of protests that broke out this past weekend. Ironically meeting in Tucson, a group of border scholars from Texas, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Mexico and Poland modified their work agenda to join local demonstrations and draft a protest against SB 1070.
Said the statement from the Border Research Ethics and Methods Conference: “We are appalled by the Governor’s irresponsibility in signing the Senate Bill 1070. Her signature allows the majority in the Arizona legislature to violate the most basic civil rights of the American people. We strongly condemn this bill and call for its immediate repeal.”
Contemplating everything from lawsuits to possible boycotts, pro-immigrant groups are busy discussing their tactical responses to SB 1070. Overturning the law is giving an added impetus to May Day protests planned across the US for next weekend.
Political fallout from SB 1070 is spreading across the Americas. In Washington, the measure is sparking new political wrangling over a possible comprehensive immigration reform bill. High officials from the Guatemalan and Salvadoran governments lambasted SB 1070, while representatives of the different political forces in Mexico all condemned the law.
Warning that SB 1070 could jeopardize relations between Mexico and Arizona, the office of Mexican President Felipe Calderon issued a statement: “The criminalization of the migrant phenomenon, far from contributing to the cooperation and collaboration between Mexico and the State of Arizona, represents an obstacle for the solution of common problems in the border region and North America in its entirety.”
Inspired by the Bolivia conference, border activist Marentes said an “inclusive” new movement that transcends single issues and crosses ideological and political boundaries is needed to address a deepening human rights and ecological crisis. In the short-term, he said, outrage over the Arizona law could serve to bridge energies from the upcoming May 1 protests with the US Social Forum planned for Detroit, Michigan, in June. The event is expected to draw thousands of people from grassroots organizations.
The Detroit gathering, Marentes added, could be the place where the issues swirling around the border crisis and the Arizona law make it on the “table of all the social movements in the US.”
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