Arizona’s “Show Me Your Papers” Law is About More than Immigration

by Will Potter on May 11, 2010

in Surveillance,Terrorism Legislation


Americard, by Ian Geldard

Historically, as nations have made the slow, steady creep toward fascism—the closing down of an open society—two groups have been among the first to feel the tightening: dissidents and immigrants.

On this website I have exclusively documented the crackdown on the first group: attempts to label people as “terrorists” because of their political beliefs. The new immigration law in Arizona makes clear, though, that this “Green Scare” does not exist in a vacuum.

Arizona’s law, SB 1070, makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally and requires immigrants to carry paperwork proving their immigration status. It allows Arizona police to stop and question people who they think are “reasonably suspect.”

So what’s the problem? As supporters of the law have repeatedly said, “If you are here legally, you have nothing to worry about.” Right?

The phrase “Show me your papers” has no place in a democracy.

It puts unchecked power in the hands of government officials and law enforcement to stop people at their whim. In terms of immigration, the most immediate concern is racial profiling and harassment of those who look like an “illegal” [read: brown people].

Supporters of this legislation have justified it in a few ways. They point to terrorism concerns due to lax border security, and say illegal immigrants unfairly benefit from living in the United States without contributing through taxes (actually, illegal immigrants are vital to economic growth).

However, this law (and a similar one proposed in Michigan) is not about national security, and it is not about the economy. It is about using a vulnerable class of people as a political scapegoat in order to push a larger political agenda.

For example, the demonization of immigrants in Arizona has moved from the border to the classrooms. Legislation has been proposed to outlaw ethnic studies programs:

The new bill would make it illegal for a school district to teach any courses that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment of a particular race or class of people, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

[Update: This bill has become law.]

Much like animal industries have moved from targeting the Animal Liberation Front to targeting mainstream groups, anti-immigrant groups are moving from targeting so-called “illegals” to targeting anyone who ideologically supports them.

Both of these crackdowns, on dissidents and on immigrants, are about the vilification of the “other.” [For a great, accessible discussion of this, check out the Pinky Show, “How to Solve Illegal Immigration.”] As Naomi Wolf has documented in The End of America, one of the defining characteristics of increasingly totalitarian societies is the creation of both internal and external threats as scapegoats, and then slowly widening the net.

Activists of all social movements should reject Arizona’s law, and all others guided more by fear than compassion. It promotes racial profiling, it is intended to terrify communities, and it will destroy families. Those reasons alone are enough to oppose this legislation. But this is not not solely about immigration; it is about whether we continue advancing towards a society where the “illegals” are not just individuals, but entire belief systems.

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