Saturday, May 1, 2010

Reflections on Arizona (part II)

While perusing various articles, organizations and forums that addressed SB1070, Arizona's deeply controversial immigration law, I was fascinated by the diverse opinions expressed by different segments of American society. In many cases, the responses that readers posted and public opinion polls were more fascinating and relevant than the articles themselves. In a broader sense, they tell us a great deal about the values and political visions of different groups and the underlying tensions that exist between them. In terms of inter-communal relations, the perception that different groups hold regarding immigration and other social and economic issues may have a greater effect than reality. To put it simply, the vast gulf that separates the perception of recent events held by most Latinos and European-Americans will be an increasing source of tension and conflict.

According to the Rasmussen Reports: 70% of Arizonans support this measure, while 23% oppose it. Interestingly, many of its supporters shared the concerns of their opponents, as demonstrated by the fact that 53% "expressed concerns that "it will lead to racial profiling" and "that efforts to identify and deport illegal immigrants also will end up violating the civil rights of some U.S. citizens." And 85% said they’re angry at the federal government, while only 10% express anger at immigrants. So, contrary to the claims of its opponents, racist and anti-immigrant sentiments are not the driving forces behind this misguided law, rather the sense that steps had to be taken because of the failure of the federal government to secure the border and maintain order. While many are not comfortable with the provisions of this bill, few see viable alternatives. Many are open to providing a path to citizenship once they feel that security and rule of law has been reestablished.

Perusing the Face Book site " MILLION Strong AGAINST the Arizona Immigration Law SB1070" was quite eye opening. The posters expressed legitimate concerns about racial profiling. But, unfortunately, very few treat the law as a deeply flawed effort to address very real problems, many participants simply labelled their opponents as "nazis" and "racists." Few reached out across the isle and presented alternatives means to address the concerns that drove so many Arizonans to support these very poorly conceived measures. Many posters, were not just opposed to racial profiling, but to any measure of border control and interior enforcement. These sentiments were especially prevalent among Latino posters. However, I had the pleasure of conversing with a few very reasonable opponents of the law, who understood that security could only be achieved and racial profiling could only be avoided if amnesty was accompanied by serious border control and a focus on fining employers. They acknowledged that until the situation was brought under control, public sentiments for harsh enforcement-only measures would only grow.

Perusing the commentary on the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Suntimes and Huffington Post, I came across a broad spectrum of views. The first two papers elicited responses that were overwhelmingly in support of the law. Most focused their ire on the federal government's failure to enforce its own laws, believing that the Bush and Obama Administrations had placed political considerations over the rule of law and general welfare of Americans. But, unfortunately a notable minority of posters expressed hateful, racist sentiments. And of course the generally liberal Huffington Post was largely, but not entirely opposed to the law. For the most part CNN maintained a fairly neutral stance, allowing spokesmen for organizations that opposed and supported SB1070 to present their positions and debate their ideological opponents. In contrast, the Spanish language media offered overwhelmingly one-dimensional presentations, granting very little time to individuals with dissenting views. And on the rare occasion they did, air time was granted to extreme figures, such as Sheriff Arpaio, rather than more reasonable, main stream proponents of immigration enforcement. Especially in the Spanish language print media, I found a strong tendency to foment the belief that Latinos were besieged by racism, hatred and anti-immigrant forces. Clearly this indicates an underlying sense of alienation.

Clearly we are witnessing a stark divide among Latinos and European Americans regarding their perception of this law in particular and immigration in general. In Arizona, "76% say it is more important to gain control of the border than it is to legalize the status of undocumented workers. Only 19% believe it is more important to legalize the status of undocumented workers already in the country." S0, while a notable minority of whites "cross ethnic lines" and oppose an enforcement centered approach to immigration reform, the majority clearly do not. While I do not possess hard data, anecdotal evidence indicates that the majority of Hispanics support an amnesty centered approach and seem to oppose most enforcement measures.

While individuals and groups can in good faith hold very different visions about what policies most contributes to the general welfare of all Americans, ethno-political movements seem to be far more focused on the interests of their respective groups. In fact, calls for ethnic solidarity and advancing group interests was widespread among Latino participants in the facebook site. We can only imagine the fallout that would occur if more than a handful of the proponents of this bill openly called for ethnic solidarity and advancing the interests of white people! Often perceived group and national interests are synchronized; for example, La Raza's lobbying for programs to improve the educational achievement for Latino students may be exclusionary, but raising the education and skill level of any group is in the interest of all Americans. But, at times perceived ethno-political and broad national interests are at sharp odds. This is especially true with the current debate, where politicians like Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) are accused by some members of the right of placing ethno-political interests above the rule of law and the interests of non-citizens above the broad intersts of all American citizens. Some even described anti-enforcement politicians as the "treason lobby" and express anger that non-citizens and their supporters are protesting the enforcement of the law.

Ultimately the issue is not which side holds greater truth, it's that the perceptual chasm that exists between different communities will lead to increased tensions. In the past the demographic and political hegemony of European-Americans limited opportunities for conflict. Different ethnic and cultural groups may have held starkly different social, political and economic visions, but because none possessed a sufficient demographic and geographic concentration, for good or for bad, they largely had to assimilate or at least acquiesce to the dominant Anglo-American vision, laws and institutions. But with dramatic demographics shifts, assimilation has waned as has the desire to acquiesce and with that, competition between groups to shape the political destiny of the United States has increased.

The existence and competition of diverse political values and visions is a challenging, but essential aspect of a healthy republic. However history shows that when political fault lines overlap with ethnic divisions, greater conflict becomes inevitable. Progressives has sought to minimize conflict by demonizing any manifestation of white ethno-identity politics while encouraging its expression in all other groups. This asymmetrical relationship is unsustainable and will almost certainly increase identity politics among whites; a prospect that I find troubling.
If you doubt the destructive effects of ethno-identity politics on diverse nations, read up on the history of the Ottoman Empire, Yugoslavia, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, just to name a few.

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