Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Status Check

Cartoon: Lalo Alcarez
When I first saw this map online, I commented, "Wow. I would love to have my old Arizona back."

When asked to explain, I responded that the image reflects the Supreme Court's temporary approval of the new show-your-papers law in Arizona. Police officers there are now REQUIRED to check the documentation of anybody suspected of not being a citizen or otherwise authorized visitor. For example, if a person is beaten or raped and comes to the police station and "seemed" foreign, the police would be required to investigate that victim's status, as well as the crime itself.

I then explained that my comment refers to four years that I enjoyed living in the state. It was very conservative, of course, in many ways the most conservative politics in the country. But it was not a xenophobic place in those days, and freedom of movement and expression were valued. I think they still are by many Arizonans, but a tight economy (exacerbated by true Wild West banking and realty industries in the state) brings out the worst in people.

Finally, I noted that the Supreme Court decision was not final -- the way police actually use their new powers can be examined to modify the decision. In fact, as Jacques Billeaud explains in an AP article, the Court Ruling Leaves Arizona to Rely on Feds. This is a cogent explanation of exactly what the Supreme Court ruling does and does not do. Law Professor Margaret Stock provides a more detailed and expert -- but still readable -- explanation of this aspect of the decision as part of a symposium on the SCOTUS blog.

The decision does, as I mention above, leave in place the requirement that police check the status of people they encounter, but the court will monitor whether this is done in a racially biased way. Moreover, the police will have very limited ability actually to hold people once they are apprehended. This may be a proverbial distinction without a difference, however, as both the law itself and yesterday's decision convey a harsh antipathy to migrants that (and those who "seem" like migrants) that will frighten many people -- including both victims of and witnesses to crimes -- into avoiding police.

I close this post with a second Alcarez cartoon that I noticed while seeking to credit the artist for the map at the top of the post. The image is jarring because it contradicts the widespread assumption that President Obama is not winning the immigration debate. This is perhaps because the constancy of attacks from the most xenophobic wing of the political right cause the media and other observers to overestimate the importance of the President's most ardent critics.

As I mention in the "Immigration" section of my resent post entitled No se olviden Mexico, the President's handling of certain aspects of immigration policy is actually close to what a majority of U.S. citizens would advocate. Moreover, as the President has actually implemented policies that reduce the volume of extra-legal migrations, it is occurring to a growing number of people that this is not nearly as important an area of debate as are some others.

Depending on how the summer and early autumn unfold, this might become an increasingly positive issue for the president -- even though he is likely never to mention Mitt Romney's hiring of undocumented workers.

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