Arizona’s Immigration Policies: Racism and Collective Hypocrisy

Aziza Ahmed

Between new immigration legislation and education laws, anti-immigrant sentiment is overtaking Arizona, while we suffer collective amnesia about our own role in anti-immigrant policies.

Arizona’s Governor Brewer is on a roll with anti-immigrant law-making. Under S.B. 1070 racial profiling may worsen (or be more easily justified) and with H.B. 2281 schools could justify not teaching students about a variety of historical injustices if these lessons could be understood to “promote resentment” towards a particular race or class. Not only are the courses under attack, but the teachers as well: the Arizona Department of Education has begun a process to remove teachers with accents from classrooms.  

Hatred towards immigrants is masked in a variety of discourses: “national security”,  “border security”, “high unemployment”, or if you are Pat Buchanan it is disguised in the subtle subtitle of your book “State of Emergency: the Third World Invasion and Conquest of America.”  Okay, so maybe it is not hidden at all.  In fact, alongside the current debates in Arizona, one of the more obvious examples of our disregard for immigrants (particularly undocumented immigrants) was President Obama’s health care reform speech of September 2009. It was at the precise moment President Obama was reassuring us that undocumented immigrants would be left without healthcare that Representative Wilson shouted, “You lie!”  And then everyone got mad.  For good reason of course, because aside from Representative Wilson’s outlandish and disrespectful behavior – Obama was telling the truth: we had all agreed to deny undocumented immigrants healthcare.

Of course, this anti-immigrant sentiment emanates from all sides of the debate and manifests in horrific ways for many.  Take for example the shocking case of Miriam Mendiola-Martinez shackled to her hospital bed after giving birth because she was undocumented and in police custody. Amnesty International has documented the impact of racism on immigrant women negatively affecting safe childbirth and delivery.  In addition to racism, a fear of authorities, an inability to speak English, and inability to navigate the health care system by immigrants also served to lessen women’s abilities to receive adequate health careIn 2003 the Committee on Understanding and Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care highlighted discrimination as a key factor in racial and ethnic health disparities.

Who is Governor Brewer’s staunchest supporter in this anti-immigrant frenzy? None other than Sarah Palin –this time attacking immigrants only a few short months after admitting to crossing the border into Canada for health care.  Brewer and Palin even have a website which offers oddly pieced together facts and statistics alongside a seemingly amateur YouTube video about the need for border security.  Their law, the website proclaims, is being misrepresented and unfairly attacked.  However, while Arizona’s laws are rightly under fire for their racist underpinnings, there seems to be a convenient collective amnesia on the side of those claiming a moral upper hand in this argument (the less racist hand, the more accepting hand).  After all, didn’t everyone just finish agreeing (compromising) that there are some things that immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, just shouldn’t have some of – like healthcare?

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It’s possible that at the end of this odd debate consisting of forgotten hypocrisy and poorly made websites helpful information may emerge.  I mean, maybe Sarah Palin has some tips on getting the more than 11 million undocumented people that have little to no healthcare access in the United States into Canada legally for healthcare?  It was her own family’s solution after all. Perhaps that’s a project for the Brewer-Palin amateur video production team?  I bet that one would go viral.

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