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Wherein I Refuse to Recognize Arizona as a State April 30, 2010

Posted by A. Robinson in Loathin'.
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Have you people seen this?  Today, the Arizona legislature passed a bill that would require police officers to ask for documentation if they suspect you are illegal, and it makes being in the United States illegally a state crime.  Additionally, it invests citizens with an inordinate amount of power

Other provisions [in the bill] allow citizen lawsuits against government agencies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws, and make it illegal for people to hire illegal immigrants for day labor or knowingly transport them.

Holy God, Arizona.  Have you lost your ever-lovin’ minds?

The issue of illegal immigration is a conflicted subject for me.  On the one hand, it’s illegal to come into this country without proper documentation for various reasons.  First, and foremost, is the effort to keep out the riff-raff, like criminals who are trying to evade charges in their own countries.  I get that.  I don’t want murderers waltzing into the United States for safety.  Then there’s that whole thing about taxation and job loss, not to mention the vaccination scare.  In El Paso I had to get all sorts of additional vaccines because–obviously–I would be coming into contact with people who would not be inoculated.  So yeah, I get that you need papers for a reason.  On a personal level, my family was able to come into the country legally, so I think that everyone else should do it the right way, too.  Elitist?  Maybe.  Honest?  Yes.

On the other hand, have you seen what daily life is like in Mexico?  I can’t blame anyone for wanting a better life than that.  The problem is that trying to get entrance into the United States is incredibly difficult.  The tests you have to take are in English, and this predicates two things: that you know how to read and write English, and that you know all about the history of the U.S.  I mean, the last isn’t so hard, right?  Oh wait, except that the poor who are running the border haven’t had any education to speak of.  The tests themselves create a barrier that keep out the people who want to come in.

But all of this is sort of beside the point.  The fact is that there are illegal immigrants in the United States, and under current immigration law, they should be arrested and deported.

In theory, Arizona’s law seems like a good idea.  The only real way to catch illegal immigrants is to figure out that they’re illegal, and unless they have contact with the police or a health care professional, that’s awfully hard.  The issue with Arizona’s law is really very small, really…nothing more than BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS.

Case in point: this morning on Good Morning America, political pundit Lou Dobbs was defending the Arizona bill.  When asked what an illegal immigrant looked like, this was his response: “Well, an illegal immigrant looks like someone with no legal documentation.”  (This is a paraphrase, but you can see the full video on the GMA website).  HOW do you know someone has no legal documentation, exactly?  Do those people have flatter pockets than others?  Perhaps your left eye turns green when you don’t have your license on you?  No.  People with no documentation look like poor, dirty, uneducated MEXICANS who have poor English skills.

This is racial profiling at its best.  All of you guys who might look like Mexicans better watch out–I’m talking to you, Native Americans.  Oh, and you Middle Easterners better wear headgear or burkhas or whatever to distinguish yourselves (and so you can be discriminated against in a completely different way.  Lucky you).  Even more terrifying is the power that the bill invests in the citizenry.  Under the bill, citizens can make “citizen arrests” of illegals.  Except…wait!  How will they know who is illegal?  The same way Lou Dobbs does, obviously.  I can’t wait for all of those “wrongful arrest” lawsuits to start piling up.

This law is terrifying, and it scares me that there are people in legislatures that think that this kind of categorization and violation is in any way justified.  I sincerely hope that one day they feel persecuted for something out of their control, and made to feel like an outcast in their own country.  May THEY be afraid to look underprivileged, have a certain color skin, or speak with a specific accent.

In conclusion: screw you, Arizona.

EDIT:  I just found this addendum to the Arizona bill:
“HB2281 states that any course, class, instruction, or material may not be primarily designed for pupils of particular ethnic group as determined by the state superintendent of instruction. State aid will be withheld from any school district or charter school that does not comply.”
This directly attacks Chicano studies programs.  Ummmm.  Really?  I’d like to see that bill get passed about African-American heritage classes.  This place would burn there would be so much outrage.  I dare you to tell me this isn’t racial profiling.
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BookLust: The Devil’s Highway October 16, 2009

Posted by A. Robinson in BookLust.
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Tough read.  Important read.  Must read.

Tough read. Important read. Must read.

I’m going to post this separately from a recap about Luis Alberto Urrea’s visit to campus, just for posterity’s sake.  Oh, and also, then I have TWO blog entries.

I don’t read a whole lot of non-fiction.  Unless it’s a cookbook, craft anthology, or magazine, I tend to gravitate towards fiction.  When I’ve got a down moment, I’m much more likely to pick up Lorrie Moore than I am Jon Krakauer, in other words.  When we were told that we had to teach this in class, I didn’t quite know what to expect, not only from the book but from my students.  I have to admit, I thought the book would be a series of redundancies for me–after all, who better to know the border than a girl who grew up there?  The fact that the book had been a finalist for a Pulitzer didn’t really sway me one way or the other; I expected a dull read full of outdated statistics, gross over-generalizations, and liberal propaganda (honestly).

What I found was an absolutely riveting piece of creative non-fiction.  Urrea writes beautifully.  He carefully picks his language and metaphors so that they are honest but impactful.  The story itself focuses on the Yuma 14/Wellton 26, a group of illegal Mexican immigrants who lose their lives in the middle of the Arizona desert.  Instead of starting from the group’s first step into Arizona, Urrea begins at the beginning, and the book’s success and readability hinges on this move.  He sets up the book by giving the reader an in-depth look at the border patrol and the Devil’s Highway, and explains key terminology which factors into the rest of the text.  I have to admit, the first part of the book is slow going and a little schizophrenic; Urrea frontloads The Devil’s Highway with information, and hops around substantially while he delivers it.

If you can stick with the book, it skyrockets in parts two and three.  Urrea is incredibly careful with the story he has been given. Urrea’s compassion for the men and their families colors the text as he paints the “walkers” in vivid detail.  The reader is immediately taken by the dramatic irony in the book, for Urrea never lets us forget that as we meet these “real” people, we are doomed to powerlessly follow them to their deaths.  We walk with the illegals step for step as Urrea painstakingly pieces together their story from survivor testimonials.  In terms of perspective, I felt like I was reading a first-person account of the tragedy rather than investigative journalism.

The real beauty of this book lies in its humanistic take on illegal immigration.  From the border patrol to the gang that organizes the death march, Urrea portrays each person as an actual person, not just a “group.”  For example, the reader gets to know many of the Yuma 14 along with their motives for running the border, and we realize that these people are more than just “Mexicans who steal our jobs,” but are fathers, sons,and providers.  The border patrol agents do their job and do it well, but The Devil’s Highway shows them as “missionaries” of a sort, a kind of cavalry dedicated to saving the lives of immigrants just as they protect the American people.  Though the book is tangibly biased, Urrea’s opinion is fairly hard to pin down: he seems to sympathize wholly with the immigrants, but he’s understanding of the American fear that surrounds the immigration issue in general.

Not only did I learn a ton from the book itself, I could not help but be moved by the Yuma 14’s story.  It’s tragic from beginning to end, and I honestly had to set the book aside more than once because the horror had become too acute.  Urrea pulls no punches and tells it like it is, even in death.  He forces us to count the steps to one man’s final resting place, watch as the men go insane from hyperthermia, and experience the tragedy of rescue.  The work is beautifully done, and I think that it should be a must read for all American citizens.  Though he sometimes downplays the complexity of the immigration situation–who truly understands it?–the work he does to make immigrants more than just a group is astounding.

The scope of this book is undeniable.  Regardless of your stance on immigration (and regardless of your citizenship!), you will learn something about yourself after you close the back cover of The Devil’s Highway.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5 (a gripping and critical text)