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Immigrant Rights Rally, Los Angeles, May 2010. Photo credit Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.

An old high school friend of my wife’s pulled me into a debate about the Arizona immigration law (currently under appeal in federal court) the other day. Although neither of us disagreed that the US needs better policies and enforcement around undocumented people, his approach was somewhere between the old Fugitive Slave Laws of the nineteenth century and apartheid in South Africa. He all but let corporate greed, malfeasance, and economic exploitation, the root cause of this issue, off the hook.

So, in honor of Public Enemy, I’ve named this post “By The Time I Get To Arizona,” hoping that our country hasn’t gotten all the way there yet, between Arizona’s immigration law, the Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, and Glenn Beck. But in case it has, I’m posting a combination of my responses to my wife friend about how unconstitutional, racist and fear-confirming this response is.

“In the case of the Arizona law, the only way it would work is if one were to profile a particular group in order to enforce it. The idea that anyone without papers could be arrested and potentially deported means that if the law was practiced at random, someone White, Black or otherwise a likely American citizen could be caught up in a grave law enforcement error, leading to controversies and lawsuits. But if the focus is on Mexicans, Salvadorans and Latin Americans most likely to emigrate to the US, then it would work the way in which it’s intended.

The law was made with the Mexican border in mind. It wasn’t made to stop Russians or Canadians from coming into the US – we’d have more immigration enforcement at airports, ports, and the US-Canada border if that were the case. Bottom line is, laws like this don’t get made to stop groups that aren’t of color from using services or exercise what have been presumed to be their rights once on American soil.

But beyond this point is this simple reality. Whether it’s the 14th Amendment, requiring papers for undocumented people, or denying kids financial aid for college because their parents are undocumented, the fact is that a particular group of people are having all kinds of rights denied. The law granting citizenship rights to anyone born on American soil was originally used to make 4 million freed persons and 200,000 free persons — Black folks — American citizenship. It also gave the sons and daughters of European immigrants — who weren’t illegal even though millions of them came without papers (i.e., “Wop” [without papers] Italians, Poles, Jews, Greeks, etc.) citizenship rights and a simple process for naturalization.

These laws would set in motion a chain of events that would lead to denying Latin American immigrants (legal and otherwise) and Latinos born in the US what all of us expect to take for granted, especially freedom of movement. This isn’t all that different from when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, denying the Chinese immigration rights and the Chinese that were already here citizenship and ownership rights for more than sixty years, or from Fugitive Slave laws passed between 1793 and 1850, which required free Blacks to carry their freedom papers wherever they went. If this isn’t at all about racism attached to the serious issue of immigration control but minus the issue of economic exploitation, then why the need to concentrate on supply (the undocumented) rather than demand?

Until we deal with the heart of the problem — companies exploiting desperate immigrants (legal and

undocumented) for profit — we’ll continue to make bad and downright racist law around this. Since we think that corporations have no responsibilities in all this, they get off the hook for creating this situation, while poor people get labeled as if they’re roaches.”

One other thing. Glenn Beck’s in DC today dishonoring MLK and the Civil Rights Movement, not to mention progressives across the board. To quote Chuck D and his crew, Beck “to be a goner,” though not necessarily with the blood-wrenching screams in the middle of “By The Time I Get To Arizona.” Otherwise, Arizona will be the most liberal state in an increasingly fearful, repressive and policed nation.