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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
Arizona immigration legislation lacks reform

Kathy Dittrich

Arizona immigration legislation lacks reform

Last Tuesday the Arizona House of Representatives approved anti-illegal-immigrant legislation that, pending approval of the state Senate and the signature of Governor Jan Brewer, will set the bar for immigration reform and the treatment of illegal immigrants nationwide. The legislation has been lambasted by a New York Times editorial for being ""mean-spirited,"" an editorial which went on to argue the legislation ""would do little to stop illegal immigration"" but would rather, ""lead to more racial profiling, hobble local law enforcement, and open government agencies to frivolous, politically driven lawsuits.""

Especially disconcerting, with respect to this most recent legislation, is the redefinition and criminalization of trespassing in Arizona, which would render any undocumented person guilty of trespass. In addition, blocking traffic for the express purpose of offering or soliciting day labor would also be criminalized. Pro-immigrant supporters have criticized this crack down on day laborers as leading to a criminalization of work in the state of Arizona.

As a nation of immigrants this is appalling. Our culture is obsessed with race and nationality. We are constantly asked to check a box denoting our race. We place great significance on heritage. Just take for example St. Patrick's Day or ""Little Switzerland"" (New Glarus). We advertise our own heritage proudly (and frequently demand to know that of others). It is culturally important whether one is Italian or Norwegian. Why? I don't know. Perhaps it tells us something about an individual (at least we think it does) if they are German versus French.

We cling to, remember, share and celebrate our respective heritages as the ancestors of immigrants. But when it comes to modern immigration we cannot stand the idea of foreigners infiltrating our country. Where does this anti-immigrant hysteria come from in a nation of immigrants? I suspect there is no one answer to this question but one cause of this hysteria has to be the rhetoric surrounding immigration propagated by the media.

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A 2008 report released by Media Matters Action Network, ""a progressive research and information center dedicated to analyzing and correcting conservative misinformation,"" underlined two myths that pervade the rhetoric surrounding immigration on cable news. The first myth links crime to undocumented immigrants and blames illegal immigration for increasing taxes and costs of social services. The second myth expounds, among other things, that there is a conspiracy to take back the Southwest United States for Mexico, that Mexican immigrants are infecting Americans with leprosy, or H1N1, or ""insert popular fear mongering disease here,"" and that undocumented immigrants are responsible for the accusations of election fraud in recent years.

The report went on to detail the number of episodes in which the alleged connection between illegal immigration and crime was discussed on ""Lou Dobbs Tonight"" (94), ""The O'Reilly Factor"" (66) and ""Glenn Beck"" (29) during 2007. Media Matters also found ""all three programs have presented as fact the ‘reconquista' myth, which states that there is a movement afoot for Mexico to take over the American Southwest.""

Mistreatment of and backlash against immigrants are not new phenomena. When the Irish began immigrating to the U.S. in large numbers in the mid-1800s, native-born Americans attacked the Irish for their social behavior, impact on the economy and Catholic religion. It gives me some comfort to think if within a couple hundred years St. Patty's Day can become practically a national holiday, then, given the present popularity of Cinco de Mayo, perhaps one day immigrants from south-of-the-border will be as integrated in our patchwork population.

In the meantime however, anti-illegal immigration legislation, like the pending Senate approval in Arizona, cannot be allowed to gain ground nationally. First of all, the hatred and fear mongering fueling the panic about immigration is unfounded and as a nation of immigrants we have no right to demonize and criminalize undocumented workers. Secondly, as the economic situation in Arizona would suggest, heavy-handed immigration reform does not boost the economy. This year Arizona eliminated SCHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program, made extensive cuts to funding that made full-day kindergarten programs possible and proposed cuts to funding for adult education and GED testing. Anti-immigration legislation isn't entirely to blame for these social and economic woes, but such legislation does have a way of being anti-family and anti-prosperity.

Kathy Dittrich is a senior majoring in English and French. Please send all feedback to

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