In this election year, two pieces of state-level legislation have successfully framed the two competing ethos Americans harbor toward illegal immigrants. One is rooted in the tradition of hope and progress; the other is steeped in suspicion and fear.
Several months ago, I published an article with PolicyMic defending the legitimacy and touting the merits of the California DREAM Act, a piece of legislation making state financial aid available to undocumented students seeking a college education. I found it fair, reasonable and advantageous for both the immigrant population and the state of California.
Today I am compelled to contrast California’s attitude toward illegal immigrants with that of another state as it is reflected by its legislation, Arizona’s S.B. 1070, the constitutionality of which is currently under review by the Supreme Court.
The California DREAM Act targets a specific portion of the undocumented population: students who have been raised in the U.S. from a young age and who wish to pursue a future as educated American citizens. S.B. 1070 also targets illegal immigrants, but does so in such a way – under the vague and far-reaching justification of “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented – that leaves the entire foreign-born, predominately Hispanic, community of Arizona open to harassment.
The DREAM Act actively seeks a solution for the talented, undocumented students residing within its borders and thinks creatively about how they might add value and competitiveness to the state’s workforce. S.B. 1070 is determined to create a police state. The zeal with which this law aims to expel immigrants from AZ communities has produced a climate where, in some towns, Hispanic parents cannot walk their children to school for fear of being discovered and whisked away.
“The people who are home, waiting, are just as afraid,” admits Leticia, a 27-year-old immigrant living in Maricopa County. “You leave, and we wonder if today is the day you’re going to get arrested.”
The California DREAM Act is a constructive piece of legislation, one that is forward thinking and embodies the values of equality, fairness and inclusivity that define us as a nation. Arizona S.B. 1070 is reactionary, divisive and profoundly un-American.
Policies drafted out of “fear and anger” – as UCLA Professor of Law Hiroshi Motomura describes S.B. 1070 – cannot produce positive outcomes.
“Born out of fear and anger, Arizona’s attempt to enact its own immigration regime and to allow selective enforcement is impulsive extremism.”
Think back to the examples provided by history. The McCarthy trials, the memories of which depict a period of suspicion and persecution totally antithetical to the American ideal, were fueled by a dogmatic fear of communism that deeply permeated the fabric of society. The PATRIOT Act, through which we forfeited the right to privacy and civil liberties that are fundamental to the idea of American freedom, was born out of the paralyzing terror of another attack following September 11. More recently, the “stand your ground” or “shoot first” laws that are woven into the background of young Trayvon Martin’s murder are still more proof that fear is a poor foundation for the rule of law.
S.B. 1070 falls right in line. Burned by what feels like a loss of control of the border and known cases of violence, afraid of the cultural changes evident in their communities, and bitter about being forced to adapt their way of life to an unfamiliar element, Arizonans are lashing out. But this is no way to draft policy.
The Supreme Court must act as the calm voice of reason. It must strike down S.B. 1070 and make it clear that laws written in the language of fear, anger and resentment are not worthy of a great nation.