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Monday, May 3, 2010

The Loudest Silence

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The silence is deafening. It’s always amazing to watch conservative commentators feed the inflamed debate over immigration, an issue steeped in bigotry and hatred, without once mentioning bigotry and hatred.

The more obvious the racism, the louder the silence.

It would be difficult to contrive a more obvious example of racial profiling than Arizona’s recently passed “Show Me Your Papers” law.

The law requires police to ask for proof of citizenship from anyone “where a reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.”

The law drew hundreds of thousands to immigration marches last weekend in Milwaukee and around the nation, the biggest Latino protests since 2005, when a Republican-led House of Representatives passed Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner’s bill to imprison and deport more than 12 million illegal immigrants as felons.

Calls for Big Government?

There is something about people of color crossing borders that brings out a totalitarian response in people who otherwise claim to be opposed to big government.

The same people who are opposed to government providing affordable health care now want the federal government to adopt the tactics of Nazi Germany, Communist Russia and Apartheid South Africa and demand to see citizenship papers, especially from certain people.

People who cheered when President Ronald Reagan demanded the Soviet Union tear down the wall separating East and West Berlin are now willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.

So-called conservatives were willing to throw away billions of dollars on a worthless “high-tech” virtual wall that sets off “Scary Illegal Immigrant!” alerts every time the wind blows or a bunny rabbit jumps.

We blindly pour our nation’s scarce financial resources into the 15th-century Ming Dynasty idea of building a Great Wall of United States to seal off our 2,000-mile border with Mexico. Meanwhile, the 5,500-mile border on our north with Canada goes virtually unprotected, leaving us vulnerable to ravaging hordes of Canadians astride moose.

There’s just something a lot more frightening about immigrants crossing our southern border. They come in scarier colors.

Racism is never supposed to be mentioned, however, except to deny it exists.

The Arizona law was even amended in the final days of the Legislature to declare that race could not be used as a factor in raising suspicion that someone might be in the country illegally.

That is going to make the police training classes on how to implement the law particularly hilarious.

Let’s see. What factors other than race could determine “a reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States”?

Maybe what they are eating? How they’re dressed? Do they put their hats down on the sidewalk and dance around them?

Instead of talking about bigotry, we are told we have to understand the pressure Arizona is under as a result of immigration. Arizona’s population is more than 30% Latino, after all.

Think about that for a minute. The majority in control of a state’s government has just declared war on a third of its citizens.

Isn’t that going to add quite a bit of pressure to an enormous number of Arizona’s citizens? But I guess they’re not the ones that we’re supposed to care about and try to understand.

Minority communities will recognize another hallmark of bigotry: group guilt for the crimes of individuals of color.

Apparently, one of the driving forces behind Arizona’s draconian law were reports of a white rancher being murdered by an illegal immigrant involved in the border drug wars.

There are plenty of murders by white people in Arizona, too. Some of them are involved in drugs as well. But there are no state laws targeting the white population to punish the majority for the criminality of its race.

Mexico has its own complaints about the border drug wars, by the way. The individuals involved come from both sides of the border, but the guns they use overwhelmingly come from the United States.

All of this may seem remote from the upper Midwest, but unfortunately it is not. Outrage over the blatant bigotry of Arizona’s law has reopened the national discussion over how to create a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants living in the shadows in this country.

One horrific side effect of the Arizona law will be to increase the exploitation of undocumented immigrants by cutting off their ability to report crimes to police or to provide information in investigations.

And, sadly, some politicians in Wisconsin are eager to exploit bigotry for their own political advantage without ever mentioning the word out loud.

At a statewide Tea Party rally in March, Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen bragged about deporting immigrants and declared: “America for Americans!”

Silence is complicity.