NOGALES, Ariz. — When one asks to define what it means to be an American, liberty, freedom and rights usually come before economic opportunity.
Which right is most important to Americans? Free speech, religion, the right to bear arms?
While essential to American identity, these rights vary in importance to individual Americans. Some would put the right to bear arms ahead of the freedom of speech, for example. It is violation of equal protection of the law that most frequently moves Americans to apply their freedom of speech and assembly to bring down laws that have clear questions of inequality. Throughout American history this is true, applying the First Amendment to uphold the Fourteenth as Martin Luther King showed Americans in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington clearly demonstrates the power to peaceably assemble to further equality. Dr. King’s message was to face hostility with peace. That is the only way to challenge unequal behavior from the part of the oppressor.
Representative Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, is a current example; a member of Congress with the peaceable determination to act with civil disobedience to be arrested for blocking the sidewalk outside the White House in protest of the Arizona immigration law.
One protection every American holds as essential, above all other rights, is the equal protection of the law. When equal protection is threatened, if a law or action doesn’t seem fair, action is immediately motivated.
Now, the fading Anglo hegemony of American culture is using symbolic legalism to maintain its near minority status.
The recent Arizona illegal trespassing law allowing for local law enforcement to stop and question citizenship is an example of unequal protection. California congressman Duncan Hunter’s call to amend the Constitution to disallow citizenship of persons born in the United States to non-citizen parents is yet another.
These actions caused an immediate reaction from many Americans as questions of fairness struck our collective psyche when the mass boycotts and demonstrations against Arizona began.
On Sunday, May 2nd. 2010, thousands of protesters in cities across the United States protested against Arizona’s new immigration law. In a clear sign of the power of the right to peaceably assemble for equality, an “estimated 6,500 marched in New York, 8,000 in Chicago, 20,000 in Dallas and 50,000 in Los Angeles.” (The Miami Herald, 5/2/2010)
Any Mexican or Hispanic-looking person should be on guard, as the Arizona law requires immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times. Police have been given authority to question people if there is reason to suspect they are in the United States illegally. Reason to suspect may be based upon appearance.
Laws that question one’s citizenship based on appearance are impossible to enforce on the border, and make being güero an unconstitutional advantage. In a border town, political citizenship shares a reality just as strong, but not as legal, with cultural nationality. A distinct culture exists on the border, one that is neither Mexican nor American, but a fusion.
Now California Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter calls for an amendment (CNN, 4/30/2010) to the U.S. Constitution that would deport her U.S. born child, degrading the Fourteenth Amendment in another attempt at racist Anglo hegemonic legalism. Hunter claims that the children born to non-citizen parents do not have “American souls.” (MSNBC April 27, 2010, Countdown with Keith Olberman)
The critical mass of ethnic identity puts the police in the role that surpasses the duty of immigration officials. Especially considering that the local police have more extensive contact with a citizenry that nearly always appears suspect under the new law.
For example, at a border school with a population that is 95% persons of Mexican descent, every person can be “reasonably suspect.” Recently, I faced the consequence of this law when the local police applied it legally and inhumanely to one of my students.
I taught at a high school that never asked about students’ citizenship. It was a sort of a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. Our school was a safe place and the students knew it; we educated, not interrogated.
An example of both the Arizona law being enforced and Duncan Hunter’s racist call to amend the Constitution came in the last week with a student. She is 17, and her husband, 21, have a small child who was born on the Arizona side of the border.
She was a good student, always in class. Our school was one that the students with children could bring their kids to the school and have day care while they attended classes; she brought hers; until one day when she didn’t show, then another and another. We knew something was wrong.
We looked for her; then several days after her disappearance she was back. The current Arizona law was applied and she and her husband were interrogated and deported as a result of an emergency that nearly took the life of her child.
After class she stayed and told me the horrible story. During a drug-related conflict in their neighborhood, a stray bullet grazed their child. After the ambulance had taken the child and mom to the emergency room, the local police asked to see the husband’s papers.
The papers not produced, the child was turned over to Child Protective Services and the couple to immigration. This is what polls report that 65% of Arizonans who support the law want.
In a KGUN9 TV interview on May 2nd, 2010 Kurt Schley, a Rio Rico Arizona resident, and supporter of the new law said, “It’s way overdue because the problem is getting worse and worse.” Yet the opinion of degree of the extent of illegal immigration still does not excuse the demand for respect of equal protection of the law. Violations of equality, even the perception of inequality moves Americans to action. Governor Jan Bewer said Arizonans are afraid of the 1000 immigrants a day crossing, she said that we need to, “protect our nest” (ABC Good Morning Arizona, April 30, 2010).
Pima County Arizona and Tucson area Sheriff Clarence Dupnick called the law “racist, unnecessary and disgusting.” Dupnick also said the law was a “feel good law for the Arizona Legislature that would distract opinion from poor financial management of the state” (MSNBC April 27, 2010, Countdown with Keith Olberman).
The law that allows local law enforcement to ask for proof of citizenship in the process in a “legal action” is unequal in its text and application. I’m Anglo. I may be an illegal immigrant from Canada, but my skin color protects me; that is the unjust and unequal reality of the Arizona law, a law that has moved Americans to action to speak and peaceably assemble in protest.
The freedom of expression always brings deeper meaning to equal protection and can erase hegemony by racist legalism.