Shining the Light of The New Colossus Into Arizona

 

 

 by Walter Brasch

           Two things are assured this coming week. One is that Arizona will do its best to put into practice its controversial anti-immigration bill. The other is that a federal district court will rule whether that law is constitutional.

           The Arizona law requires all law enforcement officials who stop anyone for any reason to determine if that person may be an illegal resident. If the person can't produce documentation, the police are required to detain the individual and to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

           The Arizona law is mostly based upon the fear by Arizonans that the state is being overrun by Hispanic illegals, and that the federal government isn't curbing the problem. However, the Obama administration has increased both personnel and funding for immigration enforcement. Critics have also complained about President Obama's recommendation for a one-time general amnesty for undocumented workers and their families who have no criminal records. That same proposal by George W. Bush, which included other immigration reform, was never enacted into law because of the opposition by the extreme right wing.

           Most law enforcement officers, including most Arizona police don't like this law. It takes away time and resources; it also creates a barrier between police and undocumented workers, who often cooperate with the police in their investigations because they know the police will not notify ICE. There is no doubt that police will have a serious problem locating undocumented workers who could be witnesses. More important, police community relations will deteriorate under the new law.

           Contrary to the panic and fear demonstrated by certain citizens, contrary to the politician rants to get media attention, and contrary to the media which have under-reported the good that minority cultures bring to the nation but have exaggerated criminal activity, most undocumented workers are neither lazy nor are criminals. Most don't use the welfare system or hospital ERs because they are afraid of being caught and deported.

           The federal lawsuit avoids the Constitutional issues of civil rights and due process violations. It asks the federal district court in Phoenix to rule that the Constitution reserves all immigration issues and enforcement solely to the federal government. No matter what the ruling, it is likely there will be an appeal, which will eventually reach the Supreme Court.

           Perhaps it's time to reflect not upon the words not of myriad bloggers, pundits, and politicians, who have flooded the airwaves with their own opinions, mostly unsupported by facts, but upon the words of one American poet from more than a century ago.

           At the base of the Statue of Liberty, carved into bronze, is a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus in 1883. It was written in support of a fund-raising drive to get enough money to build the pedestal. The sonnet is titled, "The New Colossus":

 

 Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

  

          Emma Lazarus was a relatively wealthy Portuguese Jew, whose family had emigrated to America and lived in New York City for generations. But in 1882, the year before she wrote her sonnet, she began working with masses of Russian Jews who had come to America to escape poverty and persecution. She helped teach them English and job skills. But in America, the Jews were discriminated against—often by the children of immigrants from other cultures who now worried that America was being overrun by immigrants.

           Perhaps Arizonans and the nation, most of whom are the descendants of immigrants, need to again hear the words that the descendant of immigrants once wrote—the words that America is a place of refuge for the tired, the poor, the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

 [Walter Brasch's latest books are the witty and probing Sex and the Single Beer Can, a look at American culture and the mass media; and Sinking the Ship of State, an overview of the Bush–Cheney presidency. Both are available at amazon.com, and other stores. You may contact Brasch at brasch@bloomu.edu]

 

 

Mining Racism and Murder in a Pennsylvania Coal Town

by Walter Brasch

On a street in Shenandoah, Pa., deep in the heart of the anthracite coal region, six White teens took their racial hatred to a higher level. They confronted 25-year-old Luis Ramirez, an undocumented worker, and beat him to death.

At first the police chief, the mayor, and borough manager refused to believe racism was involved. Although there was already racial and ethnic tension in the 5,000 population town, the town's political leaders were united in one belief--it was just another street fight gone bad. "I have reason to know the kids who were involved, the families who were involved, and I've never known them to harbor this type of feeling," said the borough manager.

It took police almost two weeks, even with several witnesses, to finally arrest four of the teens. The district attorney charged two of the teens with homicide, aggravated assault, and ethnic intimidation, and two others with aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation. Unindicted co-conspirators are millions of Americans and the far-right mass media.

It's common for people in a nation that is in a Recession to complain. They're frustrated with their lives, with bad working conditions, dead end jobs, and low incomes. They're frustrated by skyrocketing prices, obscene corporate profits, and do-nothing legislators. The problem isn't "us," they believe, but "them." Others. Outsiders who "invaded" America.

A century ago in the coal region, good ole boy Americans complained about the Irish and Poles who took "our" jobs in the mines. For decades, Whites kept Blacks out of almost all but the most menial jobs, and then lynched those who they found to be too "uppity." During the 1920s and 1930s, the masses of Germans, trying to rationalize their own economic distress, decided the problem was the Jews--and  Americans went along with that ethnic racism. We blame Asians. Africans. Muslims. Anyone who's different.

In today's America, it's the "Illegals," the code-name for undocumented Mexicans. Of course, undocumented Swedes or Canadians or anyone with White skin pass under the radar. Anyone with dark skin doesn't.
However, politicians and pundits together yell that "illegal" means just that. "What's not to understand about `illegal'," they screech. They claim they aren't after any one race or people. Just get rid of illegals. You know, the ones who take "our" jobs. Take "our" welfare. Take "our" education. Take "our" health care. For free! And, while they're taking, say the forces of righteousness and purity, these illegals become criminals. Some do. But most don't.

You can't reason with people in their own crises. You can't tell them that our prisons are filled not with undocumented workers but with American citizens. You can't explain that most undocumented workers don't want hand-outs because they don't want to be known to the authorities. Volumes of data won't convince some of the masses that undocumented workers, the illegals, often live in near-poverty and don't get welfare. They don't even go to the ER when necessary, and so their illness or injury "runs its course" while destroying other body systems because these undocumented workers, already exploited by American business, are afraid of being identified and deported.

In our schools, hatred festers and breeds. Jokes about race, ethnicity, religion, women, gays, and anyone not "us" are told and retold by students--and by teachers and principals who should know better.

Two decades ago, the hatreds would have been somewhat isolated, confined to the corner saloon or social club. But now, self-aggrandizing politicians and media talk show hosts and pundits, who erroneously believe they are populists, spew hate-filled torrents of bigotry and fear-mongering.

I don't know if the six teens who murdered Luis Ramirez listen to talk radio, watch Fox News, or read web blogs and anonymous call-ins and letters to the local newspaper. They don't have to. Their community does.

[Walter Brasch is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, a syndicated columnist, and author of 17 books. His latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available through amazon.com and other stores.]

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