Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Our First Official Police State

On Friday, the governor of Arizona signed into law the most restrictive immigration "reform" our country has ever seen. In fact, it represents a huge step backwards in terms of human rights. The law reminds me of the kind of laws passed during the Union of South Africa's apartheid era.

Basically, the gist of the law is that all immigrants are required to have on their person the necessary documents that prove that they are "legal" (authorized to be in the United States). If they do not have one, then they are automatically subject to arrest with hefty fines. The governor claims that the police are not allowed to "racially profile" people in attempt to execute this law. However, who are they kidding? Most of the illegal migrants are from south of the border. They fall under certain physical stereotypes (short, brown skin, black hair, some with the mestizo or Native/Mayan heritage). A big problem with this law is what might happen to legal residents (who have a green card or U.S. citizenship). What if a Hispanic or Native American happens to be pulled over and asked for proof of legal status to be in the United States, and they don't have the appropriate paperwork? After all, no one I know carries a copy of their birth certificate, social security card, or passport with them everywhere (unless you happen to catch people on the first day to a new job).

Its important to look at how this kind of law ultimately backfires. The Union of South Africa is the country worth looking at. From the early 1900s, the Africans and the Indians (South Asian immigrants) were required to carry passbooks with them everywhere they went. A policeman could request to see one's passbook at any time and they were required to show it. Penalties occurred for those who did not have one. Mohandas Gandhi was one individual who showed his defiance early on when he burned his passbook in front of the South African police. The practice of passbooks was considered inhumane, because it was a controlling device for the masses. The white citizens of South Africa did not have to worry about passbooks, of course. Membership has its privileges.

Illegal immigration is a serious problem that must be addressed. However, the problem is more complex than simply putting up a wall along the border and demanding that people show their proof of legality. The biggest reason people come here is because of jobs. The government of Mexico is so corrupt and ineffectual that they don't seem to worry much about improving the lives of their poorest citizens. After all, their neighbour to the north has plenty of jobs that U.S. citizens do not want to do (custodial, construction, field labour, housekeeper, maids, fast food, food processing, etc.). Even paying the minimum wage is more than what many immigrants will find in Mexico or the Central American countries. Companies in the U.S. have a difficult time with hiring U.S. citizens to do the low wage and undesirable jobs. This problem is not unique to the U.S. Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the Middle East countries often require immigrant labour to fill out the bottom rung jobs in society. To understand better how much our societies depend upon this low labour class, there is a documentary called A Day Without Mexicans. Without these people to do the unpleasant jobs, our country would come to a complete standstill.

I don't have any solution to this problem, other than perhaps the creation of a new category for non-citizen residents. If they are here and working, they are paying taxes. Many of them send money back to their families in Mexico. Some of them may not even want to become U.S. citizens. They are only here because of the jobs. They should not be penalized or derogatorily referred to as "illegal aliens."

The biggest effect this law may have on people in Arizona is create a culture of paranoia and mistrust. That is no way to build a democratic society. We should make every effort to encourage and foster trust among people. Instead, this law takes one state closer to the paranoid "police state" model that our world has seen too much of. The irony may be that while South Africa got rid of their ridiculous passbooks laws, the United States of America is moving in that direction. The end result will be greater xenophobia, prejudice, paranoia, and fear. Let's not go there.

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