by the time we get to arizona

Guest post by David K. Song, Adjunct Professor in the Asian American Studies Department at California State University, Northridge, on behalf of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC).


The signing of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 into law is the latest move to paint crosshairs on the backs of people of color, despite claims that it's only about having the proper paperwork. Proponents of the bill have been quick to stave off criticism that the law is racist. According to Governor Jan Brewer and the Arizona legislature, it's merely a corrective action taken on behalf of fearful citizens who are safeguarding their neighborhoods from an unrelenting flood of Mexican drug cartels (read: hardworking immigrant families).

According to SB 1070, "reasonable suspicion" would be enough to require state law enforcement agencies to detain and report a person. "Reasonable suspicion" is ambiguous when it involves immigration status and should be enough to scare anyone who doesn't fit the phenotype of the "average" US citizen. What constitutes "reasonable suspicion," aside from actually catching a person in the act of crossing the border or overstaying a visa? Excessive skin pigmentation? Imperfect English?

The reality is that SB 1070 is another piece of coded legislation in a society that is struggling to convince itself that racism is a non-issue, a society in which even the mention of race, or to "play the race card," is seen as a self-serving expression of your own racial anxieties. This view has become even more popular with the election of our first African American president, which some have hailed as the final realization of a post-racial United States. Me? I'm still skeptical, especially in the ideological helter-skelter of a post-civil rights era in which the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. can be invoked to justify policies attacking affirmative action.

This isn't just an issue that should worry Chicano and Latino communities, but every group that has historically encountered racist policies in the United States and even anyone who is concerned with preventing such injustice from happening again. Similar coded language was deployed back in the early half of the twentieth century when anti-Asian prejudices ran high resulting in the alien land law acts and the Immigration Act of 1924. The Act stipulated that entry into the country would be prohibited to "aliens ineligible for citizenship" - legal shorthand to seal the borders to Asian immigration - in a campaign that had begun with the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882; another hostile piece of legislation that was at least a little honest about its intended effect.

Tuning to NPR, I heard former Congressman J. D. Hayworth of Arizona on air, commenting that racial profiling was not an issue with SB 1070. Hayworth said that the whole Mexican immigrant thing was more a byproduct of geographic happenstance. Mexicans would not be singled out. As a matter of fact, he asserted that Arizona has also been dealing with "large numbers of Chinese illegals... and perhaps most disturbingly... any number of illegals from the Middle East." Hayworth might as well have said that anyone who looks remotely "foreign" will be fair game for interrogation.

Contrary to popular assumption, Arizonans are not now living in fear. On the ground, people are mobilizing and organizing to support one another with even greater energy and determination. The weekend after the bill passed, Arizonans and people from across the Southwest gathered in the thousands to rally for reform.

Eliminating SB 1070 is only one part of our work under the overarching need for immigration reform and the tenor of the entire immigration debate makes this coming May Day all the more critical to take a stand. Shame on Arizona - No to SB 1070! Find your local May Day event this Saturday in Los Angeles, Chicago, D.C. and other cities across the nation. Show Congress and the White House that we need immigration reform now.


To find out more about local May 1st events in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington DC, go to the NAKASEC website here.

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