Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Blog about Arizona...

The following article is one of a series of accounts from students who recently returned from Arizona. They were part of a delegation that spent a week touring the state amid the enactment of the controversial law SB 1070. The Center for New Community, a national civil rights organization based in Chicago, sponsored the trip, which included nine students from Washington D.C., New York, Chicago and Colorado.

By: Kristen McCulloch

On our first full day in Arizona, we traveled to the Sonoran desert and walked along one of the paths that migrants traverse on their journey into the United States. Although the heat and sun sweated water from our bodies, our physical condition could never approach the state of an undocumented border crosser. Walking the path made me think of the trail of tears that forced Native Americans out of their homelands into the territories unwanted by the newly established United States government and, to be honest, the present-day passage into the United States only differs because the lines are more clearly drawn for all to see. The persecution continues to affect tribal communities along the border however, with many Iraq-war-veteran-turned-border-patrol-agents pressuring natives to surrender their sovereign IDs for US passports.

We went to the Florence Detention Center in Pinal County where, if you look for long enough at any of the 2000 employees, you can see moral flash floods of shame and discomfort floating behind their cold, yet friendly, eyes. The director, the equivalent of a prison ward, walked into the conference room where we were discussing the treatment of the detainees with a few administrators and overseers and cracked the joke, “You think we care about them? The illegal aliens? ….” None of us laughed and he definitely regretted trying to lighten the mood in that moment. It was felt on both sides that to laugh would be to pardon their sins.

Our group questioned how they understand the immigration reform movement throughout the trip. A huge influence was the media, and it seems important to give it equal consideration by questioning what is being pumped into the unquestioning eyes and ears of the average American citizen, especially the reasons cited for why the most recent wave of immigrants needs to be removed from the U.S.A.

The main argument seems to be that the removal of all undocumented workers would be a solution for the global economic downfall, of which the US is absorbing part of the impact: mass deportation to levy the growing national unemployment rate. Anyone who has taken basic economic theory knows that this claim runs counter to fact. The accusation that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes has already been proven false.

Others, such as Arizona’s Governor Brewer, fervently claim that undocumented people threaten national security and this is cause to funnel millions of tax-payer dollars into erecting more miles of environmentally-degrading border wall and border enforcement. The perceived threat, in the discriminatory eyes of many, is inclusive of millions of individuals that are hard-working, home-owning, and education-earning friends, customers, and classmates long established in this country. It would also include the countless day laborers, bending for hours in order to deliver hand picked produce to every grocery store in the nation. Last time I checked, those strawberries aren’t packing gunpowder.

In the least, these arguments are created by greedy and powerful private interests in cahoots with certain politicians, but truth be told, that agenda runs alongside a much darker stain in American history: xenophobia, racism, and discrimination covered up by money, commercialized notions of morality, sensationalized media and censorship/ lack of education.
The reason our group came together was to explore the police state that is now Arizona and to understand more fully what the implications of SB 1070 are. The passage of SB 1070 is often viewed as the most recent attack on human rights, but many do not realize the extent to which this situation is a continuation of white nationalist ideology. All participants on our brief journey into the communities of working poor and criminalized innocents could not have expected the depth to which the situation in Arizona is unjust and heartbreaking. It is with the honesty of the unexpected that truth seems to come to life, and it is exactly that which we so stridently experienced during our short stay and now communicate to you.

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