have become concerned that I am missing something. In light of
the anti-immigrant Arizona SB 1070 legislation I find myself asking
again and again “…what does an illegal alien look like?”
I posed just this question in a recent letter to the editor
I wrote to a mainstream publication. We will see whether they publish
Can you describe an “illegal alien”? If you factor out visitors
from other planetary systems, what are we talking about? Do these
“illegal aliens” look like the undocumented Irish who flooded major
cities of the USA in the 1980s when people were the major export
from Ireland? Do they look like the undocumented Eastern Europeans
who I increasingly see in restaurants and construction? Hey, how
about white Canadians, a group that occasionally seems to forget
which side of the border they happen to be on?
Do “illegal aliens” look like any of them? Is that who the
Arizona legislators were thinking about when they passed this law?
Are these the images that the governor who could not take it, Sarah
Palin, has in mind when she expresses solidarity with her colleagues
In the mainstream coverage of the racist Arizona act, I have
heard no attention devoted to how one identifies an “illegal alien.”
I have not heard police discuss how they intend to choose who to
interrogate. Given that Arizona was part of Mexico until 1848,
and has a large Chicano and Native American population, no one seems
to have answered what distinguishing marks “illegal aliens” have
such that they can be chosen for interviews.
By the way, who is empowered to stop and check the identities
of “illegal aliens”? I don’t mean that in terms of which branch
of the government; rather, which segment of our society? Let’s
play this out for a minute. Since no one seems to want to identify
or clarify what is meant by an “illegal alien,” are African American
police authorized to pull over someone in New York that they believe
to be driving while illegally Russian? Could a Puerto Rican police
officer in Boston stop and check someone walking through South Boston
who they believed to have been illegally Irish?
When I saw the opinion polls indicating that more than 50%
of those interviewed supported the Arizona legislation, I wondered
to what extent those surveyed are prepared to go with this insanity.
Since it has been documented that illegal immigration to the USA
is down, and since, in either case, undocumented immigrants cannot
be held responsible for plant closings, the financial collapse,
or any recession on record, one must be clear that the Arizona legislation
is not about “illegal aliens.” It is about both suppressing the
Latino and indigenous populations in the Southwest and, in the rest
of the country, tapping into racist, nativist sentiment that longs
to identify a scapegoat for the collapsing lives of white Americans.
It is not enough to denounce the Arizona legislation, and
the subsequent anti-Chicano ethnic history prohibition for schools
(also covering Arizona), but this must be held in the face of those
who are leading this parade into the Dark Ages. At every opportunity,
we must pose this question regarding so-called “illegal aliens,”
and most importantly, ask these right-wing populists, why the post-1965
immigration has been happening and what the policies that they have
often supported have to do with this.
the way: don’t hold your breath waiting for an “illegal” Irish,
East European, or white Canadian to be stopped by any officer of
the law, most especially by an officer of color. Was that to happen
I am sure that the same people who are demanding the de facto
lynching of immigrants, Chicanos and Native Americans would be among
the first to cry out about “big government” and its abuses.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher,
Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute
for Policy Studies, the immediate
past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author
of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path
toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis
of organized labor in the USA. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.