By the Time I Get to Arizona

Thursday, 29 April 2010 09:43 By William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed | name.

By the Time I Get to Arizona
(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: PhillipC, r.i.c.h., cleanzor)

Rap and hip-hop have never been my cup of tea, for the most part. But ever since the governor of Arizona put pen to paper and officially designated every brown-skinned person in the state to be criminally suspicious the moment they walk out their door, an old Public Enemy song has been running through my head.

I'm countin' down to the day deservin'
Fittin' for a king
I'm waitin' for the time when I can
Get to Arizona ...

Press play to listen to author William Rivers Pitt read his column, "By the Time I Get to Arizona":

Press play to listen to author William Rivers Pitt read his column, "By the Time I Get to Arizona":

"By the Time I Get to Arizona" was written out of rage the last time that state covered itself in disgrace and dishonor by rejecting a holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. The lyrics, which are harshly threatening, essentially advocate getting a group of people together to travel to Arizona and make damned sure MLK gets his day, or else. That never happened, at least not in the way Chuck D envisioned it, and Arizona eventually got its head screwed on straight and gave Dr. King his day, but it's funny how history repeats itself closely enough that old songs become new again. "Read between the lines," the song goes, "Then you see the lie/Politically planned/But understand that's all she wrote/When we see the real side/That hide behind the vote."

Yup. All too familiar.

The thing is, I love Arizona. Fifteen years ago, a friend and I drove to California and had the pleasure of passing through the Painted Desert. We hit Flagstaff in the middle of the night, and at four o'clock that morning, I watched the full moon set and the sun rise while standing on the lip of the Grand Canyon. Nobody anywhere has ever seen more stars than I did that night. I've been drunk on Fat Tire bombers at a Diamondbacks game, helped a little bit with a Democratic Congressional campaign and met some of the best people I've ever known. I spent a year one day in Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, and even that was relatively pleasant.

Just so we know what we're talking about, here is the relevant portion of Arizona's new immigration law as passed by the House, which was the version recently signed by the governor:

FOR ANY LAWFUL CONTACT MADE BY A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL OR A LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY OF THIS STATE OR A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL OR A LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY OF A COUNTY, CITY, TOWN OR OTHER POLITICAL SUBDIVISION OF THIS STATE WHERE REASONABLE SUSPICION EXISTS THAT THE PERSON IS AN ALIEN WHO IS UNLAWFULLY PRESENT IN THE UNITED STATES, A REASONABLE ATTEMPT SHALL BE MADE, WHEN PRACTICABLE, TO DETERMINE THE IMMIGRATION STATUS OF THE PERSON, EXCEPT IF THE DETERMINATION MAY HINDER OR OBSTRUCT AN INVESTIGATION. 

In other words, "Show us your papers, you."

There is no doubt that immigration reform in America is among the thorniest political conundrums faced by state and local government, especially out west and along the Mexican border. A lot of East Coast liberals like myself, who live in areas with a fraction of the undocumented population that states like Arizona have, probably need to tread lightly around passing judgment on state governments trying to manage an issue this complicated.

Most of the time, that is. This new Arizona law, however, deserves as much condemnation as can be mustered. Beyond the fact that it is so brazenly unconstitutional that it will likely not survive long, there is the matter of turning an entire race of people - nay, make that a few races of people - into suspected criminals. I am not a rich man, but I'd bet all my worldly possessions that you won't be seeing a lot of Norwegian tourists getting hassled for their papers in Phoenix. This is about brown people, about a breed of racism so virulent that it boggles the mind, and it will do nothing but harm the state itself along with many thousands of innocent people.

History is repeating itself in other ways here, most especially in the political realm. Whatever the reaction may be among rank-and-file Republicans, you have to believe the party bosses in the RNC are hiding under their desks. They've seen this show before. Before the 2006 midterm elections, Sen. Ted Kennedy and Arizona's own John McCain got together to propose a broad immigration reform bill that would have eventually naturalized the millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the country. Right-wing members of the House went berserk, and offered up their own bill that was, in many ways, the birth-mother of this new Arizona law. The ensuing argument over these competing bills caused a deep rift in the Republican ranks, was instrumental in the GOP's '06 midterm debacle and had quite a bit to do with the pasting John McCain took in the 2008 presidential election.

Now that Arizona has thrown more gasoline onto that fire, expect that rift to open up once again. The issue has already claimed the last shreds and tatters of John McCain's alleged integrity; after having worked with Ted Kennedy on a relatively moderate reform package, he has boomeranged to the right in support of this new bill, in order to fend off a surprisingly robust re-election challenge from wing -nut radio host J.D. Hayworth.

Speaking of wing nuts, you have to ask yourself why all those Tea Party anti-government types we've seen holding badly-spelled signs are so quiet about this. After all, granting police the power to stop anyone they "reasonably suspect" to be undocumented is about the most rank intrusion into privacy and personal liberty we've seen come down the pike in a long while. You'd think these champions of the Constitution would be hopping mad, but, thus far, we've heard nothing but crickets from that crew. There have to be a few Hispanic Republicans, right? They probably won't appreciate getting shaken down by a cop because of the color of their skin.

Well, that problem appears to be about to resolve itself. The Hispanic voting community is pretty much the fastest-growing bloc in the nation, and the GOP has been trying for years to court them. With the passage of this new law, you can pretty much scotch that effort. Republican approval of this bill has nailed that door shut, and you can expect massive Latino support for all things Democratic to be a sure-fire mortal lock for at least a couple of generations to come.

This issue strikes to the heart of the American experience, and exposes some rank hypocrisies that shame us all. Whenever you hear someone railing against "illegals," ask them if they like fruit and meat. If they have any of either in their kitchen, you can count on the fingerprints of undocumented workers being all over that food, and all over every other sector of our economy. Ask them why the laborers themselves are worthy of punishment, but not the massive corporations who pad their bottom line by employing them. Ask them if there is any honor in the fact that GOP resistance to naturalization stems primarily from the fear that those new citizens will vote Democratic.

Our immigration policies must be reformed, but not like this. At this point, I can never go to Arizona again, which really bums me out because it is among my favorite places in the world. The law must not be allowed to stand. Period. End of file.  

Last modified on Thursday, 29 April 2010 16:26