Erik Camayd-Freixas: Sowing seeds of tyranny
Column by Erik Camayd-Freixas
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On April 23, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law a draconian bill that flies in the face of the United States Constitution and undermines the core values upon which this nation is founded.
When this law goes into effect in August, it purportedly will be legal in Arizona to dispense with the Fourth Amendment right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. As in totalitarian regimes, local police will be authorized to detain anyone they “reasonably suspect” is in the country illegally. It will be a crime to be present in Arizona without carrying proper documentation. And who might the police reasonably suspect of this new crime? Well, certainly not the white majority.
Gov. Brewer justified the racist law with empty rhetoric: “Racial profiling will not be tolerated,” and, “we have to trust our law enforcement.” Meanwhile, Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio already is under federal investigation following allegations of abuse of power and racial profiling. A disingenuous new amendment to demand documentation only after a “lawful stop” merely conceals racial profiling under the pretense of plausible deniability.
Trust must be earned – by police through their actions and by lawmakers through their judgment. The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police opposed the bill because they realize it erodes community trust and causes real crimes to go unreported. Former state attorney general Grant Woods, a fellow Republican, also opposed it on constitutional grounds. In Gov. Brewer’s judgment, the law is “another tool” for the state to solve a “crisis” that “the federal government has refused to fix.” But police chiefs don’t need or want this “tool.”
What “crisis” and what “federal inaction”? The U.S. built hundreds of miles of new fence and militarized the border. Also, illegal entries have dramatically decreased since the recession. Our undocumented population grew by only 3 percent a year during the last decade, and is now on the decline, in tandem with U.S. labor demands. Last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials imprisoned and deported a record 380,000 immigrants, 80 percent of whom, by government accounts, were non-criminals – common workers, including thousands of parents, spouses and siblings of American citizens and veterans. Hundreds of legal residents are deported in error each year, too. But nothing quenches radical lawmakers’ thirst for systematic persecution and repression.
This Arizona law is meant to feed migrant mothers and fathers into a brutal immigration system and its engorged network of privatized prisons. Local police will be pressed to meet arrest quotas.
While Congress defines illegal entry as a civil infraction, Arizona will arrest migrants on criminal complaints – no trial. They simply get checked against a database and turned over to ICE for indefinite, mandatory immigration detention – without charges, lawyers, bail or rights. They are then shipped cross-country to one of 300 profit-hungry contract prisons – far from family, community and legal support, thrown in with common criminals, under abject conditions, until the day they’re deported as “criminal aliens.”
The harshness of federal enforcement prefigures the newly authorized Arizona police state. Noncriminal arrests will top 2007 levels, when 91 percent of deportees had no criminal record. The law hides this utter failure by declaring all undocumented migrants “criminals.”
The record shows that immigration crackdowns neither make us safer nor combat true criminality. The recent surge in drug violence near the border has nothing to do with centuries-old labor migration patterns, and everything to do with the U.S. demand for drugs and its lack of gun control, Arizona being a source of weapons for Mexican cartels. To blame all migrants for crimes of others is more than unjust; it is the essence of prejudice.
Our country’s true crisis is one of human rights and constitutionality. Elitist politicians, out of touch with the people, are callous to the hundreds of thousands of lives and families arbitrarily shattered each year, and unbothered by the erosion of American justice and democracy. Their “crisis?” People of color turning up at the country club.
Defenders of the Constitution are preparing to sue for a federal injunction. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., called for a boycott of his state, which would lead to billion-dollar losses in conventions, tourism and trade. State violation of the Civil Rights Act jeopardizes millions in Title VI funding.
This law will be swiftly stricken down. Perhaps then, zealots and radical politicians will get the message: that Arizona is not their private ranch, but an inalienable member of our Union; and that Americans of every color, creed and conviction regard such affronts to our Constitution as manifest acts of tyranny.
Erik Camayd-Freixas has a doctorate in Spanish from Harvard and is professor of Hispanic studies at Florida International University.