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Davis, California

Friday, October 15, 2021

Column: A free exchange

It is beyond me why many conservative thinkers still give Arizona’s SB 1070 a free pass. The Republican Party is so terrified of the specter of brown immigrants, and so deluded as to the superiority of state power over federal, that its members are willing to support the legalization of racist and totalitarian measures.

Joining the rank and file, Debra K. Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle condemns the actions of student activists at UC Berkeley who demanded, among other things, the condemnation of the Arizona law from Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. In her column “Starving for Attention at UC Berkeley,” Saunders questions the dynamic efforts of students, staff, faculty and allies who held a hunger strike to not only improve the UC system, but raise awareness about those citizens of Arizona whose constitutional rights are already being violated.

Saunders’ belief that the administration should not “kowtow” to the collective activism of the students – for what other reason the administration is there, I have no idea – is one thing. I don’t understand how she arrived at her opinion that students deserve anything less than to “behave as if their demands merited serious consideration,” but that’s not my problem. My issue is this: Saunders writes that students have no right to force the university administration to “parrot” their beliefs, even if these beliefs have to do with human dignity and the rights of citizens because she says it limits a “free exchange of ideas.”

Saunders does not understand that a “free exchange of ideas” cannot exist when the government, state or federal, has the power to stop people on the street and demand identification on pain of arrest. A few days prior to the signing of SB 1070, an Arizona truck driver (who just happened to be a brown guy) was arrested because his driver’s license and Social Security number were not enough to establish his identity for ICE officials; his wife had to bring his birth certificate to jail so he could be released. The text of SB 1070, by the way, which was signed AFTER this offensive state of affairs, specifies that a valid Arizona driver’s license is enough to establish that a person is not “an alien unlawfully present in the United States.” (Sorry about the oppressive language, but I’m quoting directly from the bill.)

A “free exchange of ideas” necessarily implies the option of activism. That includes students holding protests and hunger strikes in the name of reducing fees and returning jobs to laid-off staff. That includes students peacefully protesting to force an administration built around their existence to acknowledge the evil of SB 1070.

Leaving “reasonable suspicion” of citizenship status undefined, even if SB 1070 reinforces federal immigration law, is a dangerous precedent. It is the responsibility of lawmakers to predict how a law will be carried out based on its language. Even if SB 1070 is intended to be carried out “in a manner … protecting the civil rights of all persons and respecting the privileges and immunities of United States citizens,” as the law states, Saunders and other conservatives have to acknowledge the limitations of people who only have visual cues – such as skin color or clothing – on which to apprehend suspected undocumented immigrants.

Student protesters at Berkeley understand and condemn the use of these visual cues, otherwise known as racism and classism, and are entirely within their rights to demand the university administration to do the same.

HALEY DAVIS can be reached at hrdavis@ucdavis.edu.


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