Monday, April 26, 2010

What Happened to My America?

In the past, I've always been proud to call myself an American. I lived in a country based on civil liberties and overall freedom. Despite all of the political struggles that have occured in my life, at the end of the day, I was still proud. Well, after this past weekend, I'm not sure I can say that. I was shocked to hear of recent immigration legislation that was passed in the state of Arizona. On April 23rd, Governor Jan Brewer (R) signed a bill (SB 1070) that demands that all citizens have proper identification paperwork from anyone as long as there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person in question is an illegal immigrant. In addition, all citizens have the right to sue their local government if they personally believe that the immigrations laws are not being enforced.

It's almost not worth discussing how unreasonable and, frankly, horrific this legislation is. People from across the country have been outraged with the governor's decision and words like "Nazism" and "facism" are being painted all over the situation. To be honest, I'm right there with them. This legislation is a nightmare for all of those working against racism in states along the Mexican border. Even President Obama has spoken out against Governor Brewer's decision:

"[The government's] failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others, that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe. (from POLITICO)"
My problem with this bill is two-fold. Firstly, it is going to make racial profiling not only easy but legal. The governor of Arizona has assured her opposition that this won't happen. She's even gone so far as to imply that people concerned with racial profiling don't have faith in their law enforcement. I'm sorry, Gov. Brewer, but what else would law officials be basing their "suspicions" on if not appearance? It absolutely baffles me that she believes that this won't be an issue of racism.

My second point may be a bit of a stretch for some of you, but I beg you to consider it fully. I've devoted a lot of my life to organizations that work to understand genocide and try and prevent its reoccurence. The most common question we ask ourselves is "how did we let this happen?" Why didn't anyone ask questions when the Nazis were exterminating millions of people during WWII? How could we let the same thing happen to the Rwandan people in 1994? How are crimes against humanity still being committed even as I write this post? We have to stop ignoring the warning signs.

I don't want to blow this legislation out of proportion but I really do want to emphasize the seriousness of the situation. In Nazi Germany, Jewish people were required to have identity papers with them at all times. In pre-genocide Rwanda, every person had their ethnicity listed on their identification cards. I realize that this is a small piece of legislation but it's also one that is very terrifying to see passed. I do not mean to imply that we are on our way towards some sort of American genocide against the Hispanic community. I simply mean to emphasize that while immigration reform is necessary, this is a step in the wrong direction.

(Photo courtesy of Yahoo News)


Thomas Wachtel said...

This is a win. Well-done.

Tim Ryan said...

Don't lose faith in the country because of one state. Arizona is just plain crazy, look at this:

Kelly Smith said...

Sarah, you are a goddess, once again.

This was thoughtful and passionate. Well done, sugar plum.

Anonymous said...

I agree with essentially everything you wrote--well done. BUT, I think you should be more careful in suggesting that this is a slippery-slope to Nazism, etc. It is a disgusting bill, it is against the basic American principle that while we all may cleave to different beliefs and ethnicities, we all can agree that, so long as one is not harming another, he/she should be free to live his/her life as she pleases and participate in our government, and it is probably unconstitutional (b/c of the unavoidable racial element in enforcement). However, I think we can all agree that shouting "Nazi" or "Fascist" isn't going to accomplish much, and can make our cause look a bit absurd (ever hear of those tea-partiers?). Instead, I think we should appeal to our basic ideals of liberty, equality, pluralism, constitutionalism, and justice. I think that the majority of Americans are probably against this bill, and if our arguments are couched in principles that all Americans (except the fringe group that pushed this through) agree upon, even more will oppose it.

Btw, I realize that you don't really think that this will lead to genocide, etc., but its notable that Glenn Beck uses a similar style for opposite motives (spending a show associating Obama with Hitler, then saying, "now, no one really believes that Obama is a bad as Hitler (but I just spent an entire show talking about it, since I see similarities and want to exploit them)").

So, I agree with your sentiment, but just be careful, and try to use language that, without resorting to hyperbole, helps the average American understand why this bill is so horrible.

Henry James Vasquez said...

I agree that one must be careful tossing around loaded terms. The obvious case of when it is okay to use "fascism" is when an action is philosophically congruent with the theory behind fascism itself. This might be the case and it is worth it to have the discussion on the merits of this rule.

In that same light, the term "nazism" for anything but the historical National Socialist Party has become useless and meaningless and I don't believe it is usually the optimal word choice.

Thomas Wachtel said...

I don't have time to go into too much detail here. but I think there's a difference between thoughtlessly calling people Nazis like Beck does, and raising the issue when a government institutes a policy that the Nazi German government actually implemented. Time will tell, I guess, but I really don't feel like this is necessarily a hyperbolic claim.

Tim Ryan said...

I don't think anybody is really comparing Sarah to Glenn Beck, it's just dangerous to use a reductio ad Hitlerum and try to maintain a serious argument. That being said, "show me your papers" is a phrase that is generally associated with Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia. It's a little disturbing. But I don't think we have to worry about the entire country just yet. I would just suggest that anybody with darker skin should steer clear of Arizona.

Thomas Wachtel said...

I agree with the dangers of the "reductio ad Hitlerum." I typically hate it when people make this argument, as I think most of the time it's a lazy and immature one. But based on my knowledge of the history of human rights and genocide, I really think it's relevant here. People have ignored things like this in other countries before, and sometimes (not always) it ends very badly. This is where the "never again" and "never forget" stuff comes in. Again, I'm not saying that this time next week we'll see pogroms in Phoenix. But this has been a first step for things like that in the past. It's important to understand just how dangerous this new law could turn out to be.

I can't speak for Sarah, only for myself. But I am not saying that the governor of Arizona is Hitler. I am saying that this state is implementing a policy that has been used in Nazi Germany and Rwanda and South Africa, among other places, to institutionalize an ethnic group as second-class citizens. It's not that they're "acting like Hitler," it's that they're actually doing something that Hitler did. You captured this, I think, with your "show me your papers" comment. That's not a necessary end to this situation, but it's happened before, and it should not be happening again. We ought to be smart enough to learn.

Christian Sorrell said...

I'm very interested to see how this bill will play out.

First off, I completely agree that the bill will most likely lead to racism. In order to avoid that, it would need to make it necessary for all individuals to carry their legalization papers whether being born citizens or otherwise and require for police to check them during any incident (being pulled over, etc.) just like other identification. The problem with this is the fact that that makes things feel way too much like a police state and as if the government does not trust its own people.

Secondly, this is political suicide for those that supported it in Arizona. The hispanic vote is growing and growing every year and passing a bill that could in some ways legalize racism is a pretty sure fire way to lose that vote.

Thirdly, I don't see this leading to genocide or anything of the sort as others have said, but I do agree. It feels a bit to Nazi-ish for my liking.

Immigration reform should be done at a national level and should be seeking ways to streamline the application and acceptance process rather than focusing on hunting down and removing illegal here, which will almost always seem like a battle against one race, rather than one nationality.

Thomas Wachtel said...

Well-said. Glad to see you here, Christian.

Christian Sorrell said...

Oh, don't let my presence lead you astray. I am by no means a "Leftie" (or even a "rightie" for that matter). I've been on the prowl for a political blog, saw you were writing here, and found all of the writers to be logical and level-headed, something that's always refreshing to see in the realms of political opinion.

Anonymous said...

Haha, glad to see I beat Chris Matthews to the point: