Memo to Arizona lawmakers: We are all immigrants
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Memo to Arizona lawmakers: We are all immigrants

Arizona, wrote the defeated Indian chief Geronimo to President Grant in 1877, “is my land, my home, my father’s land, to which I now ask to be allowed to return…. If this could be I might die in peace, feeling that my people, placed in their native homes, would increase in numbers … and that our name would not be extinct.”

Those Johnny-come-latelies in the Arizona legislature who passed a draconian bill last week targeting illegal immigrants and more or less mandating racial profiling – and the craven governor who signed it – seem to have forgotten that little bit of history. We are all immigrants in this land – and from the true “native American” point of view, illegal immigrants at that.

Arizona itself is a Johnny-come-lately, becoming part of these United States less than 100 years ago. Sen. Barry Goldwater himself – whose family name is all over the state – was born when it was only a territory (and whether he could be considered a U.S. “native” was called into question when he ran for president in 1964).

Jewish groups across the board have rightly condemned the law, which requires, not just allows, police to demand proof of citizenship of those they suspect may be illegal aliens. Gideon Aronoff, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said in a statement on Sunday that Gov. Jan Brewer’s signing of the bill “undermines the very notion of equality we uphold as Americans, as it will force all Arizonans – U.S. citizens, legal immigrants, and undocumented immigrants – to live under a cloud of suspicion and fear.”

It is not hard to imagine what might trigger that suspicion: Dark skin, for one. (People of African or Indian descent will be easy targets, but so might Sephardim.) Spanish, for another, rendering people from Spanish-speaking countries vulnerable to harassment. Not having proof of citizenship could be grounds for arrest.

The passing – and eventual enforcement – of this law is likely to cost Arizona dearly. It will divert police and security resources and it has already sparked calls for boycotts. Ironically, the American Immigration Lawyers Assn. was scheduled to hold its convention in Scottsdale. No more.

Aronoff noted that “[t]he Jewish community has long called on our national leaders to reform our immigration laws to ‘welcome the stranger’ and to create an effective federal immigration system characterized by the rule of law and the humane treatment of newcomers.” The law, he added, “not only threatens the necessary trust between police and their communities, but the decision also betrays the proud history of a nation built by immigrants.”

RKB

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