Give me your tired, your poor

Published 3:13 pm Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On April 23, 2010 Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, signed the legislation that is becoming known as SB1070 (Senate bill #1070). This controversial bill has set off a firestorm of debate across the nation. What the law actually does is mandate that state law enforcement enforce the federal laws that are already in place.

It is the method of that enforcement that raises questions. The new law grants wide leeway to law enforcement to arrest individuals for probable cause if the officer suspects that the individual is in the country illegally – those officers are indemnified by the law against wrongful arrests. This is perhaps the most suspicious part of the new law – the part causing the highest degree of opposition. &bsp;

There are also provisions in the bill that prohibit stopping traffic to pick up day laborers, soliciting work if you are here illegally, and commuting or suspending the sentence of any illegal until the punishment terms have been met. Almost one half of the law deals with punishments to employers who, knowingly or without taking proper precautions, employ persons in the country illegally.

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The ease with which law enforcement may stop and even arrest raises the suspicion that racial profiling will be rampant in the attempt to enforce the law. This is an expectable fear. Arizona is, after all, a state that voted against the observance of Martin Luther King Day as a holiday. It is also a state that has the largest ratio of illegal residents to legal ones. The suspicions regarding racism were only exacerbated when on May 24, 2010 Governor Brewer signed a bill into law that prohibits the teaching of any classes on ethnic studies in the states education system (HB 2281).

As I went about the business of researching the underpinnings of this latest national argument, I often thought of the immigrant identity of our entire population. In the final analysis we are all immigrants – excepting full-blooded Native Americans.

In the early days of the settling of North America by Europeans, the primary entry point was New York/New Jersey area. From 1855 until 1892, immigrants primarily entered the U.S. through the Castle Gardens Immigration Depot in New York.

In 1892, the more famous Ellis Island station was opened. While there were rules and steps to gain entry to the country, immigrants were largely treated with a sense of welcoming and even given a place to stay for a few days while meeting the requirements for entry.

In 1886, the Statue of Liberty was officially opened for the public.

In 1903, a plaque was affixed containing those famous words written by Emma Lazarus in her poem The New Colossus: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Times are different now, certainly. Jobs (especially in the current economy) are less plentiful. People expect more for doing less. There is great anxiety about the effect of uncontrolled immigrations impact on our health care, education, and other social service systems. These are legitimate fears.

The elephant in the living room, however, is that racism is with us still – and probably always will be. After all, no one is suggesting building a fence between the U.S. and Canada.

Sadly, the attitude that the world has admired for two

centuries – that America welcomes those who seek freedom and opportunity – has eroded away.

I hear frequently that (We) arent against immigration; we just want everybody to do it legally. If that is true, why have we not moved immigration centers like those from the New York area in the past, to the Texas/New Mexico/Arizona/ California borders? Its almost like the characterization that we have used the open door to gain access, but now we want to slam it shut and lock it.

I suspect that at the bottom is that base human foible: Racism.

Don Weathington is a retired psychotherapist and business owner who lives in Gillette Woods at a place called Birdland.