Deep Impact: Three Mexican-American Scholars Discuss Arizona's Immigration Law and Its Ramifications on the State's Colleges and Universities
Rogers, Ibram, Diverse Issues in Higher Education
Since its enactment last month, the Arizona law that gives local and state police the ability to arrest and detain people they suspect to be undocumented immigrants has spurred a whirlwind of discussion and activism concerning immigration policy and race relations. With the specter of racial profiling and civil rights violations looming, a coalition of civil rights groups and activists around the country has condemned the law (SB 1070). The National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) are among groups calling for an economic boycott of Arizona.
Diverse interviewed three prominent Mexican-American academics about the law, its impact on Arizona colleges and what they hope to see in real immigration reform moving forward. Dr. Roberto Rodriguez is an assistant professor in the Department of Mexican American and Raza Studies at the University of Arizona. In his nationally syndicated "Column of the Americas;' he compared Arizona to the apartheid South Africa. Dr. Josephine Mendez-Negrete, an associate professor of bicultural-bilingual studies at University of Texas at San Antonio, is the editor of the journal, Chicana/Latina Studies. Dr. Devon Pena, the chair of NACCS and author of its statement against SB 1070, is a professor of anthropology and Chicano studies at the University of Washington.
What do you think about the new immigration law passed in Arizona?
Rodriguez: I look back at the Japanese-Americans who were put into concentration camps during World War II. I think it is very similar. That is, we have an opportunity to take a moral stand to prevent something wrong from happening. Today, there's a consensus among everybody in this country that what happened to the Japanese was wrong, but nobody stood up while it was happening. This is what's happening here in Arizona. We can see a law that will legalize racial profiling.
Mendez-Negrete: It has taken us back to Jim Crow days. Except that this is targeting international citizens who have no choice but to migrate, in our global economy to make a living and to survive, to places such as ours that rely on the labor of people who can't find work any place else. It's not just the undocumented immigrants who are targeted. It's also people who look like them and have indigenous connections to the Americas.
Pena: When we talk about this notion of the ecology of fear, what we are talking about is a political and civic climate that the politicians are deliberately stoking and aggravating that creates an environment of intolerance, fear, insecurity and hatred that is directed at anyone who appears foreign or that appears to be illegal--whatever that means.
Why do you think this new law was enacted?
Rodriguez: You would have to know the politics of Arizona. This is the same state that questioned President Barack Obama's citizenship, birthplace and his legitimacy. The politicians here are extreme right. We can sugarcoat it, call it something else, but there's a vicious anti-Mexican sentiment here in Arizona.
Mendez-Negrete: There are historical ebbs and flows of both derision and need of Mexicans to come and work the most difficult, the most life-depleting employment. When we see them as the cause of difficulties, we want them out. And so we resort to nativist thinking and exclusionary laws that keep them out of the nation even though the nation needs them.
Pena: It is a sort of cultural war if you will. And this is why SB 1070 is part of a package of other bills that have been passed including one that would abolish ethnic studies because allegedly it promotes resentment toward the racial groups and because it encourages Mexican-Americans to try to secede from the union. Another law would require school districts to terminate teachers who teach English with a foreign accent. …