James Fallows: China and Arizona

I guess this comparison was inevitable. America’s smartest pundit notes that China has been stopping foreigners and asking for their “papers” for years, and even suggests my state might consider bringing in Chinese police to offer sensitivity training to their Arizona counterparts, and tips on how to limit potential abuse of their new, scary powers.

Here’s the point of comparison between the impending Arizona situation and China: it’s no fun knowing — as citizen and foreigner alike know in China, and as Hispanic-looking people in Arizona soon will — that you can be asked to show proof of your legality at an official’s whim. But if it’s sobering to think that the closest analogy to a new U.S. legal situation is daily life in Communist China, we should also look on the bright side. With some notable and serious exceptions, I typically did not see Chinese police asking for papers on a whim. Usually something had to happen first. Maybe soon the Chinese State Security apparatus can travel to Arizona and give lectures to local police and sheriffs. They can explain how to avoid going crazy with a new power that so invites abuse. “Civil Liberties: Learning from China” can be the name of the course.

Fallows notes how the Chinese police rarely abuse their “papers, please” powers, but I’m not convinced we’ll see the same restraint here. In China, the police – at least in the big cities – know to tread cautiously when dealing with foreigners, as it can lead to messy and embarrassing situations, especially now that every foreigner in China writes a blog. In Arizona, Latinos, especially those with neither the wealth nor political clout to raise hell, are in a far more vulnerable position. Fair or not, foreigners enjoy special privileges in China. The same cannot be said of the Latinos in Arizona.

Link via ESWN.


Arizona, my state, the nation’s shame

Obviously I haven’t been in a blogging mood lately. I just got back from China last weekend, and wondered for the next two days why the jet lag coming back from Asia is so much worse than going there. And I came home to my bigoted, small-minded, ignorant state of Arizona and reading the newspaper I simply felt too numb to blog.

I am forcing myself now to write so this site doesn’t atrophy. But that doesn’t mean I’m not passionate about this subject. I am.

In case you haven’t heard, the state I moved to 20 years ago has, in a single week, voted to institutionalize racism, to legitimize the literally deranged “birther” movement, and to permit citizens to carry concealed guns without a permit.

As I was packing to move here way back when I was still a news reporter, I remember the controversy raging over our then-governor Evan Mecham, who refused to recognize Martin Luther King Day, resulting in a massive boycott and companies around the country canceling their conventions in Arizona. Money talks, of course, and Mecham was soon impeached and tossed out of office.

And here we are all over again.

No matter what they tell you, this law discriminates against Latinos, and the argument that if you have nothing to hide you shouldn’t worry simply won’t wash. If you are Latino, the odds are now far, far higher that you, and not your white counterpart, will be stopped and asked for your papers, Gestapo-style.

The law is not only racist, it is irrational. No one understands it, and yet 70 percent of the cretins citizens of my state are embracing the bill as necessary.

After signing the new law requiring police to check out people who may be illegal immigrants, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was asked how the cops are supposed to know when someone should be screened. “I don’t know,” she replied. “I do not know what an illegal immigrant looks like.”

No kidding. But she has a lot of company in her ignorance. When I called University of Arizona law professor Marc Miller and told him I wasn’t sure what some of the law’s provisions mean, he replied, “Neither is anyone else on the planet.” We will find out what it means after it takes effect, not before.

The law says cops must inquire anytime “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.” Since most of the state’s illegal immigrants are Latinos, the natural impulse of police may be to interrogate every Latino with whom they cross paths.

All over the Interwebs and local talk radio we’re hearing how 70 percent of Arizonans are in favor of the bill, as are 51 percent of Americans overall. But since when do numbers like that mean a bill is right or constitutional? Ask the people who will have to enforce it what they think.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik knows his protests could get him taken to court, but he says he won’t enforce Arizona’s new law criminalizing illegal immigration anyway.

This week, Dupnik, the top law enforcement official in one of the state’s largest counties, called the state’s tough new law “racist,” “disgusting” and “unnecessary.” He said it would force police officers to use racial profiling, which is illegal in Arizona.

This is going to become a nightmare for our police, who can be sued if, in the eye of the citizens, they fail to enforce the law. And because it’s so hopelessly murky, the cops will, understandably, err on the side of caution by demanding proof of citizenship with anyone who might be suspicious, i.e., anyone with darker skin or a Hispanic name. And it will waste vast amounts of time, diverting the police from handling actual crimes.

I know – we need to do something about immigration. I know – an Arizona rancher was murdered last year, possibly by an illegal immigrant. I know – the drug war in Mexico is spilling over into Arizona’s borders and leading to crime over here. But none of those things makes this bill redeemable. If we want to really address the problem at its roots, we should first legalize the drugs and liquidate the incentive to commit drug-related crimes. That would be a helpful start, and then we can move on to how best to secure the border.

So no, I don’t have the perfect answer. But this bill means nothing but trouble, and everyone here in Arizona knows our governor signed it because her party has become so radicalized she would stand no chance of winning the next election without sucking up to the base. (Ironically, she has no chance of winning anyway, but that’s another story.)

Arizona, you brought this on yourself. Now every baseball and football team and conventioneer and tourist will have to stop and consider whether it’s worth it to come here. Let Arizona feel for itself what it hath wrought. Maybe, just maybe that pressure will force it to look in the mirror and do the right thing: scrap this bill for one that makes sense and will actually provide a solution without licensing racism.

Update: I should have put in a word or two about the freak who is behind this bill, one Russell Pearce. Just a bit of background:

In October 2006, Russell Pearce forwarded an email from National Alliance, a white separatist group, to a group of supporters. The email titled “Who Rules America” [6] criticized black and white intermixing and Jews in the media for promoting multiculturalism and racial equality, for depicting “any racially conscious White Person” as a bigot, and for presenting the Holocaust as fact. He quickly apologized. The article reports, “He does not agree with the sentiments in the article, but that the title and the first paragraphs about media bias appealed to him. He said the article had been forwarded to him by someone else and he would not have sent it if he had read it in its entirety.”[7] He stated in one of his apologies, “Ugly the words contained in it really are. They are not mine and I disavow them completely. Worse still, the website links to a group whose politics are the ugliest imaginable.”

In April 2008, Pearce sponsored a measure, Senate Bill 1108, that would prohibit students of Arizona universities and community colleges from forming groups based in whole or part on the race of their membership. Pearce said he didn’t want students indoctrinated with seditious or anti-American teachings. The bill would ban groups that serve minority interests such as the Mexican American study program and the Black Business Students Association.

There are a lot of kooks here in Arizona. The Tea Party movement resonates with them, and they love our criminal sheriff Joe Arpaio because of his bulldog, tough-on-crime image, ignoring the fact that he is a corrupt extortionist who opens investigations into anyone who criticizes him. (How sweet to see the feds finally investigating Arpaio, who will hopefully end up in the cold cell in which he belongs). To the wingers, he’s a saint. They love the idea of raw masculine power without boundaries. They love the immigration bill, which dresses up their bigotry and rage and makes it seem respectable. What am I doing here?