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Davis, California

Friday, September 17, 2021

Column: The crime of being brown

By now you’ve most certainly heard of SB 1070. This legislation, signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer last week, requires those suspected of being undocumented immigrants to provide proof of citizenship whenever state authorities require. Critics have compared the bill to apartheid and Arizona to a police state – and I don’t think either of these comparisons is at all hyperbolic.

Do not allow yourself to be convinced that SB 1070 is anything but an insidious infringement on the rights of Latino/a citizens. This law is not a stand taken to protect the rights of the state from the federal government; such a battle assumes the law conforms to civil rights standards in the first place, which this racist legislation obviously doesn’t.

Neither does its passage represent some kind of desperate attempt at immigration reform by the state of Arizona that went just a little too far. All this legislation (which, as time passes, is revealing itself to be classist as well as racist because of enforcers’ focus on clothing,) will accomplish is make it easier for the government to harass people based on their apparent ethnicity. Citizens of color will have to have identification on them at all times if they don’t want to risk arrest. To paraphrase something I read on a forum, leave your house without your wallet while a person of color? That’s a jailin’.

SB 1070’s supporters have hemmed and hawed when asked, point-blank, how exactly state authorities are to distinguish an undocumented immigrant from a citizen without assuming that people of color are more likely to be undocumented. They answer by insisting it doesn’t mandate racial profiling. These equivocations were made slightly more clear by California Rep. Brian Bilbray’s (R-Solana Beach) claim that judgment would be based on clothes, which is at least more specific than questioning someone for the “illegal” behavior of being Latino/a.

As if profiling a group of people based on the kind and quality of clothing available to them is much better than doing so based on their skin color.

It’s terrifying to see how easily those supposedly “representing” Arizona have passed such racist legislation. Though there were initial efforts at including language barring racial profiling in the bill, these never came to fruition, with Gov. Brewer promising the law would not result in this kind of discrimination. She issued an executive order to provide training to make sure police are clear as to what “‘reasonable suspicion’ is as they carry out the law,” New America Media reported.

All we have is Brewer’s word SB 1070 won’t lead to racial profiling, though her defense is unclear. In The New York Times’ piece “Unexpected governor takes unwavering course,” Brewer is described as something of a well-meaning bumbler, and one who “may not grasp the finer points of policy.”

This bill, however, isn’t the unfortunate result of a possibly incompetent governor taking it a too far with immigration legislation. SB 1070, also known as the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act,” was written by Arizona Sen. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), whose past hatemongering does a lot to explain the racism inherent in the bill. Sen. Russell has not only been caught forwarding propaganda from a white supremacist organization to his own supporters (the e-mail itself is about the dangers of a Jew-run media and racial miscegenation); he has also been photographed hugging up on neo-Nazi J.T. Ready, and has sponsored legislation against college students forming groups based on their race or ethnicity because they are “considered counter to democracy or Western civilization.”

If I had more space, I would devote it to the explosion of reasons why this bill needs to be stopped right now. Put simply, we need immigration reform, not more institutionalized racism.

HALEY DAVIS thinks boycotting Arizona isn’t a half-bad idea. She can be reached at hrdavis@ucdavis.edu.


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