At first, I was for the spirit of the law but completely against the legislation as written.
Arizona’s SB 1070 – in its first draft – seemed to be nothing more than an open invitation to profile anyone that looked Latino (including Black folks and biracial Americans) in the state’s attempt to scale back illegal immigration. Under the initial law, the efforts were not contained to any sense of decorum. Despite verbal direction from Governor Jan Brewer, racial profiling was a valid concern for all non-white people residing in or visiting Arizona. It promised to lead to unjust questioning and privacy (and civil rights) violations based on appearances alone.
Like many conservatives and Republicans around the country, I stood with President Obama and others (including including Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) and former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL)) to express opposition to the initial draft of SB 1070. Widespread bipartisan opposition SB 1070 in its initial form prompted changes from the Arizona state legislature.
Once the law was modified to ensure that random profiling and questioning could be deterred – basically codifying that such questioning of legal status in Arizona could only come after “…any lawful stop, detention, or arrest…”, many conservatives and moderates found more common ground on the intent and proposed enforcement of the new immigrant bill. However, many in Black America – led by the Reverend Al Sharpton – instead find common ground between the fight against SB 1070 in its current form and the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th Century.
They are wrong, and in the process, they are spending precious moral capital on an issue that African-Americans can ill-afford to be on the wrong side of history over, especially as we face plenty of mounting issues ourselves.
Vowing to bring “…people into Arizona in the spirit of the ‘freedom rides’…” – as Reverend Sharpton did over SB 1070 – tarnishes the blood spilled by law-abiding Americans that fought for the equality and safety of law-abiding American citizens during previous Freedom Rides. It is shameful to even make the comparison as the two political issues contrast even on the surface of the argument, even when the common threat of deplorable profiling based on race alone (an act I abhor in all situations) is taken into consideration. For example, in the case of SB 1070, race-based actions by authorities– though un-American and intolerable – could lead to the arrest of illegal residents within America, thus solving a criminal situation. As was the case with plenty of African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement – including plenty of Freedom Riders – race-based interaction with the authorities in those instances often led to violent beatings, violations to their civil rights as Americans (including unwarranted jailing and fines), and perhaps lynching and other forms of death and “mysterious disappearances.”
Being asked to return home and re-enter the line for legalization in America properly (be it through naturalization or some work-authorized status) is not the same as being forced to bleed to death by way of castration or drown after enduring some inhumane beating. There is no civil rights similarity between the two historical issues in recent American memory, particularly since – unlike the struggles of the 1950s and 1960s - there is not a constitutionally-based civil rights issue present in the current illegal immigration issue. Anyone who lived through the Civil Rights Movement – especially any African-American leader – should know this clearly. We can and should defend the human rights of individuals everywhere, but we can only defend the civil rights for those protected by law through our Constitution, as we did with Black folks in America. Today – as was the case decades ago – the moral right of the argument gets its support from the inherent legal rights from overriding Law of the Land.
There is no political justification for Rev. Sharpton and others within Black America for taking an opposing stance on SB 1070 – which is now the immigration check equivalent to further investigating a speeding motorist that was caught with a 9MM on the passenger’s seat – especially if the opposition is based on some manufactured semblance to historical struggles of African-Americans; (of course, some may consider Rev. Sharpton’s recent alliance with the White House – pointing to situations such as the recent Sharpton-Smiley controversy, for example – as the only necessary “political justification” needed.) Dr. King and others would never have been able to take the moral high road today (as they did years ago) while marching with residents wearing “I’m an illegal” t-shirts in the process of protests. In 2010, we are not facing a matter of discriminating against those with civil rights forged by the United States Constitution. Because of that, any true proper political resolution to illegal immigration – ranging from completely amnesty to complete deportation and points between that may be considered– cannot rightfully leverage the moral, political, and spiritual energy that fueled justice during America’s moral crisis of the 20th Century.
Any attempt to improperly marry the two issues on political precedence suppresses the historical resonance of the Civil Rights Movement and, further distances African-Americans from sharing more of a national identity with other Americans in lieu of embracing the rights of outlaws based on skin color primarily – the very rudimentary toxin that drives the racial profiling we detest. If that is the prime criteria that Black America is going to use in siding on national issues such as illegal immigration or other current political matters, then we may have come to a point in time where the vision of uniting the nation despite racial and ethnic diversity (thus, embracing the “melting pot” of America as we were once taught in school to do) has faded, leaving African-Americans in a position of peril. If Black folks in America are no longer willing to follow the paths of their ancestors and demand full inclusion and respect within the American identity – straying from the path through distancing themselves from other Americans on issues through the prism of race or finding political and constitutional kindred with those that possess no civil rights – then what are we collectively pursuing? If proper embrace of the American Dream –a dream of prosperity, lawfulness, safety, respect, and advancement of values that people from around the world risk their lives for both legally and otherwise – is no longer the dream for current African-Americans as it was with our forefathers, then what does our dream entail?
Sadly, that might lead us to other questions as well. Have we collectively missed the point of what the Civil Rights Movement was all about – fighting for the empowerment of citizens’ freedom under the guarantee of the U.S. Constitution? Are we missing the significance of what our collective support of illegal residents’ rights means in today’s America? How that support could signal why, perhaps, a majority of Americans may see African-Americans as leaning towards philosophies that they oppose - including open borders and socialized democracy – and regularly oppose us politically in response? Or perhaps, maybe we have just missed the boat on what our forefathers were willing to die for to secure our equality and freedom as previously-tortured (and many would argue still-discriminated against) Americans as lawful citizens, particularly if we are so willing to equate the calls for justice under the law with the protests of those that willfully sidestep it.