Supreme Court votes for voter suppression

The Supreme Court’s conservative faction, in classic non-activist-judging mode (…yeah, right), stamped out a few more of our voting rights today by erasing decades of Congressional precedent and throwing out the section of the Voting Rights Act that required states, like Arizona, to submit to added scrutiny before changing election laws. That’s the bad news.

The good news? Limiting the voting rights of minorities in Arizona and elsewhere in the country, is becoming more difficult everyday as a result of the growing political clout of Latinos, Blacks and other traditionally disenfranchised voices. Justice Roberts may not care about us, but if nothing else, we have demographics on our side. In one generation, for instance, Arizona will be 50 percent Latino. By then, I hope, we’ll be a little closer to achieving social equity.

In the meantime, thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling today and our governor’s decision to sign into law a voting suppression bill passed by our conservative legislature (HB 2305), untold hundreds and perhaps thousands of minority voters will not be able to exercise our Constitutionally sanctioned right to vote.

Yes, violations of our voting rights can still be challenged in court, but wouldn’t it make more sense to prevent voting rights attacks before they do real damage rather than force people to suffer those attacks and then have to go through the long and protracted process of winning a judge’s remedy?

 

Brewer’s legacy quest cannot erase SB 1070′s destructive fallout

Gov. Jan Brewer’s support of Obamacare, at least as it has to do with the expansion of Medicaid in Arizona, is a good thing. As many as 300,000 people living in poverty may be helped as a result of the plan’s approval. Now if we could only get her to admit that SB 1070 was one of the worst pieces of…,er, legislation… in Arizona’s history, and that she never should have signed it into law. We must never forget that the lives of hundreds of thousands of good and decent people were disrupted or destroyed as a result of the passage of that bill–authored by Russell Pearce and inspired by dark force of bigotry. The vast and overwhelmingly majority of undocumented immigrants are good people, not “drug mules”, as Brewer described them in her campaign-stump justification for supporting the bill. The governor may be trying to mold her legacy now as she enters the waning days of her governorship, but even this one undeniably good act cannot forgive the shameful, hate-mongering support of 1070 that led to her election even as it emboldened the racist fervor of Pearce’s xenophobic loyalists.

DREAMers Driving Freedom

A federal judge has let stand, for now, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision to bar undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, known as DREAMers, from securing state drivers licenses, even as Congress negotiates proposed legislation that most expect will ultimately allow these young people to remain in the country and earn a path to U.S. citizenship.

While the ACLU lawsuit against Brewer continues, I think it’s important to take the long view on the governor’s senseless and mean-spirited decision to impose the ban in the first place.

Consider, for instance, that by the time a child born today in Arizona to a Latino immigrant becomes an adult, he or she will be among the more than 50 percent of the people in the state of Latino origin. And immigrants arriving here that same year (around 2030-2035) will account for a larger percentage of our nation’s population growth than births.

With that in mind, I take at least small comfort in knowing that Gov. Jan Brewer’s open hostility toward immigrants, however unforgivable and destructive, is the desperate, anachronistic and futile gesture of an ultimately doomed ideology which clings to the belief that the preservation of “white privilege” is somehow synonymous with the “founding fathers” mythologized vision of democracy.

To put it bluntly, some people just don’t believe “brown” people are good enough to be Americans. This, to echo George W. Bush, is at best its own form of “soft bigotry”—soft, but no less shameful.

The irony is that as I watch DREAMers challenge what must be an often intimidating and sometimes outright terrifying gauntlet of obstacles, I see in them a quintessentially democratic spirit inspired in great measure by the ideals of democracy that most Americans abide by today.

In other words, DREAMers, particularly those who have risked everything, including their physical freedom, and stepped out of the shadows are generally the sort of people who believe they are fully American. In my view, by struggling to remain in the country they love, DREAMers are embracing and advancing our Constitutionally protected principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Unlike the DREAMers, I was born in the United States. But it’s fair to ask: “When did I really become American?” Did it happen at the instant of my birth? Did it happen the day as a school child when I first recited the Pledge of Allegiance? Or was it the moment when I gazed awestruck into the foggy screen of black-and-white TV set as Neil Armstrong took “…one giant step” onto the surface of the moon?

Becoming American, truly American, is less about serendipity and more a product of intellectual maturation. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution granted me citizenship at the moment of my birth on U.S. soil (though my mother also was a citizen), but I did not earn and probably did not deserve that designation until I finally came to understand that liberty cannot exist without human dignity.

While we should never forget that “American liberty” and “slavery” were once regarded as compatible concepts, our understanding of liberty today is, at its core, part of the genius of our modern-day interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Despite their relative youth (or perhaps because that unfettered idealism), DREAMers get this like few other people I know.

So, to deprive DREAMers of their desire to remain in the United States is to deny them their de facto right to citizenship, human dignity, and, yes, liberty.

And deporting them is just plain un-American.

- James E. Garcia is a journalist, playwright and communications and media consultant in Phoenix, Arizona. He blogs at azcvoices.com/politics and americanlatino.net.

Arpaio’s ‘reign of terror’ destroying Latino families

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s reign of terror in the Latino community continues. Thursday’s arrest of 11 people at America’s Taco Shop restaurants across the valley on “suspicion of using false identities to get jobs” (Arizona Republic, March 15, 2013) raises two obvious questions:

  • Why aren’t the business owners or managers ever arrested in these raids?
  • Why given all of the other crimes—murder, rape, child molestation, burglary, assaults, etc.—the Sheriff could be focusing his attention on is he so fixated on arresting undocumented immigrants.

The Arizona Republic reports this is the 72nd time Arpaio’s deputies have conducted this sort of “workplace identity theft operation” since 2008. Should identify theft be against the law? Yes. Would I rather the Sheriff’s Office spent its time trying to address other crimes, such as the 400-plus child molestation cases it neglected to properly investigate, instead of rounding up people (the overwhelming majority of whom in Arizona are Mexican immigrants) whose day-to-day existence is basically taken up doing the crap work most Americans don’t want to do? Yes.

“Mr. Garcia, are you implying that Sheriff Arpaio is a racist?” No. I don’t exactly know what motivates Joe Arpaio. Ego? Politics? Bigotry? A mish-mash of all of the above? But what I do know is that Arpaio could care less that his actions are destroying the lives of countless innocents. I also know that the U.S. Justice Department in its pending lawsuit against him has accused Arpaio and his deputies of engaging in a ‘pattern of unlawful discrimination”’ that “Latinos at the county jail were often referred to as ‘stupid’ or addressed with an ‘ethnic slur’; that “Latino drivers [in Maricopa County] were five to nine times more likely than their non-Latino counterparts to be stopped or searched”; and that “some [Latinos] were detained because they were said to have looked nervous or avoided eye contact”. And the list goes on.

And the terror goes on.

It is time for the terror and Sheriff Arpaio’s abuse of power to end. It is time Maricopa County has a sheriff who wakes up in the morning committed to “serve and protect” the community, the entire community, rather than to serve and protect his own narrow interests and corrupt base of power.

It is time to recall Sheriff Arpaio. If you agree, go to this website: www.recallarpaio.com/petition/ and fill out the petition to recall Sheriff Arpaio.

In case your wondering, I have absolutely no affiliation with Respect Arizona and its Recall Arpaio campaign. I just want Arpaio to stop destroying immigrant families who mean us no harm.

And is it too much to ask that our county’s top law enforcement officer spend his time fighting crime and protecting all Maricopa County families instead of parading around on the 24-hour news channels with the likes of tough-guy actor Steven Seagal (who, tellingly, also happens to be a favorite of Russian President Vladimir Putin) or holding press conferences declaring, yet again, without any evidence at all, that President Obama is an illegal alien?

Sign the petition. Recall Arpaio. Let’s restore integrity to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

 

Recalling Arpaio’s record, justifies his recall

Where do I sign? Anyone who says that Arpaio won his last election “fair and square” and therefore his recall from office is unnecessary, unjustified or just plain sour grapes, either doesn’t understand, or care to understand, the corrupting and distorting influence of campaign financing, especially when such a large proportion of the funding support for Arpaio comes from out of state. Or perhaps his apologists have decided to simply live with the fact that it’s alright that we elected a man as our sheriff who apparenty believes that “serving and protecting” the people of Maricopa County includes the right to blatantly abuse the authority of his office to intimidate his critics; waste tens of millions in taxpayer money defending lawsuits that could have been easily avoided; allow a shocking number of inmates to die while in custody in his jails, which led to several lawsuits; direct his deputies and investigators to set aside actual crime-fighting duties–such as trying to solve hundreds of sex abuse cases–and instead spend their time chasing down completely discredited claims that President Obama was not born in the United States or raiding car washes and restaurants in pursuit of undocumented immigrants whose greatest crime is their fierce desire to live the American dream. I don’t know if Arpaio will be recalled, but I do know that the State Constitution allows for Arizonans to petition for his recall, so Respect Arizona has a legal, constitutionally sanctioned right to try. And because I personally believe that Mr. Arpaio is one of the most ethically bankrupt and politically opportunistic, self-serving elected officials in the nation, I will sign the petition and hope and pray that if he runs again for the post (and he likely will) that a clear majority of the good people of Maricopa County will finally come to know how the sheriff’s practices affirm his seemingly low regard for the core principles that inspire and undergird the U.S. Constitution–namely, the belief that all men are created equal and that the implicit duty of our elected public officials is to preserve “liberty and justice for all”, not just a powerful few.

Prairie Home Companion’s Keillor on respecting immigrants

Garrison Keillor onstage January 19, 2013 at Gammage Auditorium in Tempe, AZ. Photo credit: James E. Garcia

I had the honor this week of serving as a consultant to the nationally broadcast public radio show, A Prairie Home Companion. The host, Garrison Keillor, often gathers information about the communities he visits by interviewing local historians, journalists, community leaders and the like.

I got to watch the show onstage with a couple of friends, ASU Professor Mike Kozicki and singer and guitarist Ruth Vichules.

It was great fun, but what I most appreciated were the poignant and powerful comments Mr. Keillor made about 90 minutes into the show regarding the need to respect the contributions of immigrants.

Thank you, Garrison, for your willingness to speak the truth about this country’s need to find a humane and practical solution to the issue of immigration reform. And thanks to my old friend Michael Reed at ASU Gammage for connecting me and Garrison.

The show airs on more than 500 public stations in the U.S. and overseas. About 4 million U.S. listeners tune in each week. Here’s a transcript of Keillor’s comments. You can find the entire program archived at www.prairiehome.org.

KEILLOR:

“…And in 1912…as all school children know, Arizona was admitted into the Union….Arizona, which got a bad rap a couple of years ago for a law that passed the Legislature that gave law enforcement the right to stop people they suspected might be undocumented and ask to see their papers. It was known as the “Show Us Your Papers Act”, and it caused a lot of controversy, a lot of noise was made, and things were said, and out of all of that Arizona got tagged as a state of bigots, which it absolutely is not. Simply is not true. [AUDIENCE APPLAUDS] [Since then….] The business community got together and they killed off bills in the Legislature that would have required schools and hospitals to report undocumented immigrants, and more than most people Arizonans see this as a human story, as a story involving people. They live in communities in which undocumented workers, illegals if you like, are trusted and contributing members of society, [AUDIENCE APPLAUDS] whose values of hard work and family are our values, or we’d like to think that they are. Arizonans know that mass deportation of 11 or 12 million people in this country just would be a horror, [and] that respect must be paid to Latino people. [AUDIENCE APPLAUDS] And the majority of Arizonans on both sides of the aisle believe that the people who were brought here by their parents as children should have a clear path to citizenship. [AUDIENCE APPLAUDS] And Arizonans just wish that Washington would do something about it. Well you didn’t come here for a speech but I gave you one anyway. [LAUGHTER, CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] Just wanted to clear that out…Now here’s the Sandoval sisters…and here’s the Roland brother and sister…and their orphan bass player, Jesse Allen…Play us another tune here…Run Boy Run.”

Security, insecurity and the high price of bad policy

Bad policy is expensive. The U.S. now spends more on immigration enforcement than all federal law enforcement efforts combined. When will the “enforcement only” crowd understand that we might not need 20,000 agents patrolling our borders if we actually had an immigration system that worked instead of one that allows policy makers to pretend that we didn’t hold up the “Help Wanted” sign that drew the overwhelming majority of the 11 million-plus undocumented immigrants who now live here. The ultimate irony (or hypocrisy) is that it’s the virtual lockdown at the border that has convinced so many of the undocumented that it’s no longer safe to cross back home and so they stay in anticipation of the inevitable: the day our economy is pumping on all eight cylinders again and most Americans go back to turning a blind eye again to their presence. The difference now, of course, is that undocumented immigrants have enough brothers and sisters who are willing to go to the polls and express their acute displeasure with that business as usual approach. As my dear friend Roberto Reveles and others like to say, “Today we march…tomorrow we vote.” Come to think of it, it might be time to update that chant to something along these lines: “Remember why we marched when you vote today.”

28 Dead, Part 3

I am a playwright. So this is how I am filtering the news of the massacre in Newtown, Conn.

“28 Dead”, Part 3
(A short play)
By James E. Garcia

(SCENE: A diner in Newtown, Conn. It’s 8:30 a.m. The normally bustling restaurant is quiet. It’s been more than a week since 20 children and six employees at Sandy Hook Elementary were massacred by 20-year-old Adam Lanza. PETER is seated at his usual spot at the end of the counter. He sips a cup of black coffee and stares out of the large plate glass window that looks out onto the city’s main street. The diner’s owner, Mary, approaches and tops off his coffee.)

MARY
(after a long pause)
What’re you looking at?

PETER
(another pause)
Don’t know. It’s a different place, Mary.

MARY
Yeah.

PETER
It doesn’t even look the same. I mean, it looks the same… but—

MARY
Yeah, I hear you. (a long beat) You gonna eat anything?

PETER
They said I can have his body today.

MARY
That’s good, isn’t it?

PETER
Not sure what to do. I suppose I’ll take him home.

MARY
Makes sense.

PETER
Funny how it took— I guess it’s not funny…

MARY
What.

PETER
Just thinking how it took him …10… maybe 15 minutes to…do what he did, but it took more than a week to bury them all.

MARY
Peter—

PETER
I know what you’re thinking.

MARY
….You shouldn’t be here.

PETER
Where should I…be, Mary?

MARY
This isn’t really the best place—

PETER
(an agonizing scream)
Why?! Where is…?!

(A couple and their two children seated at a booth across the room and an elderly couple turn shuffle and eye Peter nervously.)

PETER cont.
(collecting himself)
Sorry folks…(a loud whisper) I’m sorry…I truly am—

MARY
That’s what I’m talking about. You’re scaring me, Peter—

PETER
I know…I’m sorry…I’m—

MARY
It’s alright. I’m just worried. You really outta be talking to someone.

PETER
(urgent)
I’ve been talking to someone. I guess he just can’t hear me, but I’m talking and talking and hoping he’ll give me—

MARY
You mean, God?

PETER
No, I’m done talking to God for a while, at least. I’ve been talking mostly to Adam—

MARY
(exasperated)
He can’t..! (now lowering her voice and leaning in) You can’t talk to him…He’s gone, you’re not. (off his look) I know you know all of this…but you gotta get control of yourself, Peter.

PETER
(almost a murmur)
The thing is I’m in complete control. (a pause) Having your son murder 20 innocent kids, his mother …and all the others has way of focusing the mind.

(Mary’s right hand starts to shake. She doesn’t notice the coffee spilling from the pot she’s been holding.)

PETER cont.
You’re getting it on the floor. Let me help you —

MARY
No!

(MARY practically tosses the coffee pot onto the counter. Then, collecting herself, she notices the couple and their children nervously gathering their coats to leave.)

MARY cont.
People don’t know you like I do.

PETER
You want me to go.

MARY
I want you to be… okay. (calling to the couple, trying to keep her voice from cracking) Thank you for coming. No…No, don’t worry about the check. It’s on the house. You have a good day.

(As the family exits, the elderly man and woman at the counter rise and start to follow. The man tosses a $10 bill on the counter.)

MAN
Is he going to be alright?

PETER/MARY
Yes.

MARY
Yes…He’ll be fine. He’s just a little upset about everything… that’s happened.

MAN
Understandable. Anything we can do?

MARY
No, sir…No…but thank you. You two enjoy your day.

WOMAN
Take care, honey. It was good food.

MARY
Thank you.

(As the couple exit, Mary crosses quickly and locks the door behind them.)

PETER
(a nervous laugh)
Looks like I’m the one causing trouble now.

MARY
Peter, Adam wasn’t well. That’s not your fault.

PETER
I knew Adam was sick. We all knew. We just didn’t know how bad. We…I mean, how could anyone know? How could we imagine—

MARY
Right…So why beat yourself up?

PETER
(exploding)
BECAUSE WE DID KNOW! WE KNEW, MARY! I knew! I knew and I couldn’t stop him. I knew the guns were in the house. I knew his mother couldn’t control him. I knew…and I couldn’t bear to see him that way. (falling to his knees and weeping uncontrollably) I couldn’t bear to know! I couldn’t bear to know.

(Mary crosses to PETER and as he places her hands on his head.)

MARY
It’s alright, Peter. It’s gonna be alright…

(As Mary pats his head gently, she gazes through the plate-glass storefront window and watches a passing school bus. Heeding a red light, the bus stops for a moment in front of the diner and Mary’s eyes catch the frightened stare of a small girl looking in her direction. After a few seconds, the light changes, the bus lurches forward, but neither Mary nor the girl avert their gaze.)

MARY cont.
(a whisper)
It’s gonna be alright.

-END OF PLAY-

Of guns in America: Have we gone M.A.D.?

The logical extension of the NRA’s proposal to keep our kids safe from gun-toting killers — namely, posting an armed guard in every school in America — is simply to hand every parent, teacher and adult employee of our schools a high-powered, automatic assault rifle. Then again, what do we do if the killer(s) shows up with a rocket launcher? Or a dirty bomb? Yes, I’m being absurd. The obvious question: Where does it end? All of this brings to mind the now obsolete U.S.-Soviet policy that once argued each country needed to keep up with the opposing side’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. In time, the practice came to be known as “Mutually Assured Destruction” (M.A.D.) because it was a recipe for the ultimate annihilation of civilization on earth. So have we finally gone M.A.D. in the name of the 2nd Amendment? I believe there’s still time to pull back from the brink.

DREAMers and the people who would steal their destiny

Dear Ruben,

You got it wrong. Here’s why: The vast and overwhelmingly majority of DREAMers are not as you describe them. I know because I have interacted with them in a variety of ways in recent years. In fact, barely a week goes by that I don’t communicate directly with undocumented young person. I have taught them as a university professor. I have counseled them as a mentor. I have cast them in my plays. I have even written a play about them: “Dream Act”. It is based on those experiences that I can declare with full confidence that if there are a handful of DREAMers who have overreached (and what movement doesn’t have a few bad apples), the trouble with your column is that it implicitly argues that the movement itself is now defined by what you smugly describe as a pervasive sense of self-righteous entitlement. That claim is an irresponsible exaggeration at best and a point-blank falsehood at worse. To make matters worse, you even go a step further and condemn the movement for pursuing an agenda that you claim intentionally disregards the interests and welfare of their undocumented immigrant parents, but your own column quotes (with mocking disdain, it must be noted) United We Dream’s recently announced platform that calls for “Fair treatment for DREAMers and our families and communities”. You also contradict yourself by first noting, accurately, that some “80 percent” of Americans polled support efforts to legalize the immigration status of DREAMers, while going on claim that popular support for DREAMers is supposedly waning and that the movement’s purported sense of self-importance threatens to torpedo now reinvigorated efforts in Congress to pass a comprehensive federal immigration reform bill early next year. And what evidence do you cite to support this claim? A quote from Arnold Torres, a respected political observer and former director of the national League of United Latin American Citizens, who also happens to be, as you note, your business partner. While Mr. Torres is entitled to his opinion, he, too, provides no tangible evidence that the DREAMers cause is falling out of favor or that anyone in Congress believes that these young people, as well organized and passionate as they are, have the power to single-handedly derail the long overdue but apparently growing national consensus that our country’s immigration system must be fixed and that now is the time to do it.

Ultimately, the DREAMers, as a collective, as a movement, as a product of our political system, and as a living and breathing example of civic engagement that is living up the fundamental ideals of democracy deserve not your disdain and callous ridicule, but our nation’s respect and admiration. I am proud to imagine these young people as tomorrow’s leaders. And I am inspired, not put off, by the fact that even though they are undocumented, they are nevertheless courageous enough to risk their freedom, and not for the sake of a selfish demand, as you have cast it, but in the name of a quintessentially American principle: our sense of justice and fair play.

The DREAMers’ struggle, whether you care to acknowledge it or not, is our struggle. (And I’m not talking about the Latino struggle, but the American struggle.) The “demands” they make are not rooted in a sense of self-serving entitlement, but in the clear-headed understanding that whether they are undocumented or not the Constitution affords them certain civil and human rights, even as it effectively negates or obfuscates others.

Yet, I agreed wholeheartedly with at least one point your column makes. You are right in stating that “…these kids are as American as they come. They may have been born in another country, but — unlike their parents — they were raised in this one. They bleed red, white and blue…”

They certainly do. So let’s give them their due. That’s all they want. And, yes, they deserve it.

Respectfully,

James E. Garcia
Phoenix, Arizona