But first: Why should we do anything about SB 1070?

Something missing from quite a lot of the UU conversation on the topic, as we rush to sort out our urgent move-General-Assembly-or-not question, is what exactly is wrong with this law. We shouldn’t take it for granted that UUs are unanimous, or anything close to it, in their opposition to SB 1070; we have to make the argument. There are actual Republican UUs, beleaguered minority though they are, bless their persevering souls, and I’m willing to bet that a lot of UUs who are liberal on most matters are conservative on immigration. I also don’t think the man we overheard after a sympathetic-to-illegal-immigrants service at the San Miguel UU fellowship was all that unusual. “These people don’t pay taxes,” he grumbled. (Sure they don’t. When they go to Costco, the checkout worker squints at them, says “You look Latino,” and rings up their items without sales tax.)

We UUs have our share of Libertarians too, and I’ve already heard from a few self-described Libertarians (some UU, some not) who don’t see any problem with SB 1070. The fact that someone can call themselves Libertarian, and yet approve of something so close to pass laws, speaks to the intellectual bankruptcy of the libertarian movement, whose concern for freedom seems to have dwindled to an obsession with “property rights” and minimal taxation–but I’m impressed to see that at least the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party has written a blog entry opposing it.

So what is wrong with a law that is, after all, essentially saying “We don’t think the federal government is doing enough to enforce its laws, and we’re going to do more to enforce them”? For starters, three things.

The law implicitly requires everyone to carry proof of their citizenship wherever they go

I don’t carry mine. Do you? I know that if a police officer in this country asks me for my ID, justification for my being where I am, or even for my name, I don’t generally have to give it to them. Reversing the burden to “citizens must prove they are here legally” is, to say the least, problematic.

The law invites, in fact requires, more of an abuse that is already committed far too often

…that of selectively enforcing, or inventing, minor traffic violations against one particular group. Ask the white people you know how often they’ve been pulled over for a broken headlight or some other trivial infraction. Ask the black people you know the same question. Really, try it sometime. If you don’t know enough white or black people to try the experiment, read some studies like Driving While Black; A Statistician Proves That Prejudice Still Rules the Road, John Lamberth (this page excises the source; it is the Washington Post).  The issue here, of course, is not the traffic ticket but the demands for ID that can then follow.

The law can’t be carried out without illegal racial profiling

Some racial profiling is permissible and reasonable in law enforcement. For example, it is fine to say “The suspect we’re looking for is African American” (assuming witnesses have said so) and to question only African Americans about the crime in question. However, you cross a line when you say, as Palo Alto’s police chief did in 2008 when (some of!) the suspects in a spate of muggings were black, “When our officers are out there and they see an African-American, in a congenial way, we want them to find out who they are.” (She resigned as a result of the uproar.) You cross a line when you order your officers, when pulling someone over for a minor infraction, to demand their papers if the officers have “reasonable suspicion” that they are undocumented. The law is too savvy to say “ask for papers if they look like illegal immigrants,” but how else is an officer to acquire a “reasonable suspicion”? Mexico City license plates? “I Heart Jalisco” bumper stickers?

No. The “reasonable suspicion” means “they’re brown.” Like one-third of the population of Arizona–and if the purpose of the law is not to harass legal residents who are Latino, as Greg Palast charges, then why does it depend on racial profiling? Why not order officers to the border to catch people in the act of immigrating?

Not that that would improve SB 1070, in my opinion. Because the real problem with the law is the problem with our immigration policy to begin with. And here, once again, so help me, I agree with the head of the Libertarian Party:

Too Much Illegal Immigration? Then Legalize It

Like so many anti-immigrant laws before it, this law is hypocritical. There are available jobs that are vitally important to this nation; not enough legal residents want to do them, even in a time of almost 10% unemployment; the people who come here from Mexico, the people targeted by this law (you think someone walking down the street chatting in a Scottish accent will be requested to produce his green card?), come because they need the work. It’s a symbiotic relationship, not the parasitical one anti-immigrant forces like to describe. To scapegoat the people who are doing the work you want done is the worst kind of hypocrisy.

By coincidence, I’m currently reading Maxine Hong Kingston’s book China Men, which touches on the Driving Out (of Chinese immigrants) that followed the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad. I trust that if you didn’t learn about the Driving Out, the Los Angeles Massacre, or anti-Chinese sundown town laws in high school history class (I didn’t), you did at least learn that immigrants from China were a huge part of the workforce that built the transcontinental railroads. Well, what they got was not the gratitude of a nation but new laws kicking them out. Sound familiar?

What would happen if we could actually seal the border between Mexico and the United States? We’d get very hungry very fast. By value, eight percent of US agriculture takes place in California’s Central Valley. And while statistics on how much of the plowing, sowing, tending, and harvesting there is carried out by undocumented workers are hard to come by for obvious reasons, I’d hazard a guess of 80%. Then there are all the meat processors in Iowa, oil-refinery janitors in Indiana, apple pickers in New England . . . Legal residents of the US are not knocking down the doors of employment offices to get this work. It is hard physical labor in tough conditions for low pay. How do we expect it to get done?

One of the greatest political demonstrations I ever attended wasn’t a political event. It was the 1994 World Cup match between the US and Colombia, held in Pasadena. At the time, Governor Pete Wilson was running for re-election and was scapegoating immigrants and promising to be tough on border crossing–“enough is enough,” his infamous TV ad said. The World Cup crowd, naturally, was heavily Latino, and when Wilson was welcomed to the podium to say a few ceremonial words, boos erupted from the 90,000 seats and continued throughout his speech. You couldn’t hear a word he said. I was laughing so hard I could hardly boo.

What was so outrageous about Wilson (aside from his stupidity in expecting a warm welcome from this crowd) wasn’t that he opposed illegal immigration; it was that he claimed to oppose it, and pressed the federal government to stop it, while having winked at it all through his first term for the sake of agribusiness. (Meg Whitman, opting for Pete A over Pete B, has just enlisted him as the anti-immigration bulldog on behalf of her gubernatorial campaign.) Any politician in California who really closed the border would have every big agribusiness owner in the state at his office, demanding that s/he open it up again. They don’t want to pay legal wages or payroll taxes. They want employees they can threaten with deportation if they complain about conditions or join a union that might improve them.

What about us? Are we willing to pay people fair wages for the work that we need to have done? If for no other reason than respect for the memory of my immigrant great-grandparents, I’m not willing to settle for less. So why not make legal the amount of immigration we actually need to do the nation’s work?

Of course, immigration is complex. Not everyone who comes here to work wants to immigrate permanently, and there’s a lot of seasonal work to be done. “Guest worker” programs are a possible solution, but we’ll have to watch for the devils in the details. The bracero program of earlier decades came partway toward decent treatment of temporary workers, but was still exploitative, like our dependence on undocumented workers is now; the best that can be said for it is that its cruelties gave rise to the great Woody Guthrie/Marty Hoffman song, “Deportee.”

Whatever solution we find, it needs to involve paying everyone minimum wage (a living wage, would be even better–but that takes us out of the territory of illegal immigrants and into a change for all US American workers), collecting taxes on the earnings, and giving full benefits to all workers, including, of course, the rights to education and health care. If you got a job in Mexico, your children would be allowed to go to the schools.

So what should the UUA do?

A Modest Proposal for Delegates

Boycotts can be effective–even the threat of enough harm to the state pocketbook can cause legislators to change their minds. Arizona isn’t going to fold if we withdraw our tiny conference, but it must be made a little nervous by the fact that (among others) the National Black and Hispanic Caucuses of State Legislatures, the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, Major League Baseball, and the state’s biggest trading partner, Mexico, have all canceled events and/or are talking about serious reductions in commerce (the 2011 All-Star Game is scheduled for Phoenix. Baseball fans, if you support a boycott, you can tell Bud Selig so here). We could be part of this movement, and I’m suspicious of the relief that seems to be flowing through the UU blogosphere as it cries “Boycotts don’t work, you know!” and “We’re just going to have to do this again for each state that passes these laws!” (Several are considering them, no doubt watching what happens to SB 1070 in the courts, and one of them is North Carolina, host of the 2011 GA.) Be wary of any political position that dovetails too neatly with your financial self-interest . . . On the other hand, it is legitimate to keep our financial needs in mind (Major League Baseball has more money than the UUA. In fact, Bud Selig himself probably has more money than the 200,000 of us put together, but that’s another topic). More importantly, we should ask the stakeholders who share our values, such as Latino, human rights, and immigration-supportive organizations in Arizona and nationwide, what they would like us, their would-be allies, to do. Should we boycott or come to Arizona? And what else can we do that will be most helpful to their cause? I know their answers will vary, but a little research would be helpful to our delegates.

I hereby volunteer to carry out some of it myself–but in partnership, please. I don’t want to duplicate work that may already be underway by the UUA Board or staff, such as the Standing on the Side of Love organizers. I want to have all the information the Board had–who’s urging a boycott, who’s urging we come to Arizona, their reasons. And I want to do it with at least three other people who will work hard to gather information and write a recommendation to the delegates. If you want to join me, have the power to create an official task force, or can tell me whether someone’s already working on this, please e-mail me at amyzm999 AT sbcglobal DOT net.

If the General Assembly votes to keep GA in Phoenix in 2012, and if the main reason is that we could do better things with the $600,000 that cancellation would cost us, then I propose we take one half of that amount and donate it to organizations working for immigration reform; relief organizations; and education, for ourselves and the communities we serve, about the history of immigration and immigrants in the United States. That latter would have the added advantage of countering Arizona’s other blow for ignorance and injustice this month, its ban on “ethnic”–unless your ethnicity is white European-American–“studies.” I know UUs and education, though; we prefer study to action. So only 10% of the fund is allowed to go toward education. I also know that the GA likes to vote in recommendations without a realistic idea of how to fund them, so delegates, propose a funding source. We can’t pass binding funding requirements on congregations, but we could ask for every congregation to pay an additional $1.50 per member for one year. That would probably fuel a demand for a new, truly democratic delegate system, which would be a bonus.

The demonstration in Phoenix this weekend, to which I wish I could go, has been called “our Selma.” I hope so. I hope it will be a call to lasting change in our immigration policy. What we have right now is exploitation (if we simply allow illegal immigration to continue as is) or exploitation plus scapegoating (if we allow it and then punish it, a la SB 1070). Justice is possible, and we’re the ones who can bring it about.

Rally well, good folks going to Phoenix tomorrow. You are marching in the light of God.