Two things are assured this coming week. One is that Arizona will do its best to put into practice its controversial anti-immigration bill. The other is that a federal district court will rule whether that law is constitutional.
The Arizona law requires all law enforcement officials who stop anyone for any reason to determine if that person may be an illegal resident. If the person can’t produce documentation, the police are required to detain the individual and to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The Arizona law is mostly based upon the fear by Arizonans that the state is being overrun by Hispanic illegals, and that the federal government isn’t curbing the problem. However, the Obama administration has increased both personnel and funding for immigration enforcement. Critics have also complained about President Obama’s recommendation for a one-time general amnesty for undocumented workers and their families who have no criminal records. That same proposal by George W. Bush, which included other immigration reform, was never enacted into law because of the opposition by the extreme right wing.
Most law enforcement officers, including most Arizona police don’t like this law. It takes away time and resources; it also creates a barrier between police and undocumented workers, who often cooperate with the police in their investigations because they know the police will not notify ICE. There is no doubt that police will have a serious problem locating undocumented workers who could be witnesses. More important, police community relations will deteriorate under the new law.
Contrary to the panic and fear demonstrated by certain citizens, contrary to the politician rants to get media attention, and contrary to the media which have under-reported the good that minority cultures bring to the nation but have exaggerated criminal activity, most undocumented workers are neither lazy nor are criminals. Most don’t use the welfare system or hospital ERs because they are afraid of being caught and deported.
The federal lawsuit avoids the Constitutional issues of civil rights and due process violations. It asks the federal district court in Phoenix to rule that the Constitution reserves all immigration issues and enforcement solely to the federal government. No matter what the ruling, it is likely there will be an appeal, which will eventually reach the Supreme Court.
Perhaps it’s time to reflect not upon the words not of myriad bloggers, pundits, and politicians, who have flooded the airwaves with their own opinions, mostly unsupported by facts, but upon the words of one American poet from more than a century ago.
At the base of the Statue of Liberty, carved into bronze, is a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus in 1883. It was written in support of a fund-raising drive to get enough money to build the pedestal. The sonnet is titled, “The New Colossus”:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Emma Lazarus was a relatively wealthy Portuguese Jew, whose family had emigrated to America and lived in New York City for generations. But in 1882, the year before she wrote her sonnet, she began working with masses of Russian Jews who had come to America to escape poverty and persecution. She helped teach them English and job skills. But in America, the Jews were discriminated against—often by the children of immigrants from other cultures who now worried that America was being overrun by immigrants.
Perhaps Arizonans and the nation, most of whom are the descendants of immigrants, need to again hear the words that the descendant of immigrants once wrote—the words that America is a place of refuge for the tired, the poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
[Walter Brasch’s latest books are the witty and probing Sex and the Single Beer Can, a look at American culture and the mass media; and Sinking the Ship of State, an overview of the Bush–Cheney presidency. Both are available at amazon.com, and other stores. You may contact Brasch at firstname.lastname@example.org]