Arizona's Message: Don't Tread on Me, Tread on Them

07/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sometimes, it seems, our love of hatred is stronger than our love of freedom.

So it is that the brave cowboys in Arizona have proven once again that the most powerful country in the world is also the most frightened. In this case, we're afraid of poor Mexicans looking for landscaping work.

Arizona is a state that loves its Tea Parties, and one that hates government mandates so much it won't even change its clocks for Daylight Savings Time.

Yet apparently those "Don't Tread on Me" flags don't apply to people who might be mistaken by Arizona's sharp-eyed police officers as being maybe, possibly, could-be illegal immigrants.

Somehow, the anti-government Tea Partiers in Arizona have become enthralled with police state jackboots when they're grinding on the chins of people whose suspiciously swarthy complexions raise questions about their immigration status.

Those flags ought to read, "Don't Tread on Me, Tread on Them."

Arizona set a new bar for Third Reich-style law enforcement when Gov. Jan Brewer signed what became the toughest state immigration laws in the country. It's likely that much of this law will be found to be unconstitutional.

But that didn't stop the supposed defenders of the Constitution from rallying behind it.

As soon as the bill was signed, the Arizona Tea Party Network website posted a call for its followers to head out to the state capitol with posters and American flags to support the bill and counter all the people who showed up to oppose it.

It's remarkable that a website sporting pictures of Obama in Hitler and Soviet garb would urge its supporters to back an unconstitutional police crackdown on minorities, but so it is.

In an act Tea Partiers should admire for its creative use of food, at least, opponents of the Arizona immigration bill responded by smearing refried beans in the shape of a swastika at the capitol. Tea would have gone well with those beans, but it's doubtful Tea Partiers joined in, despite their reputed disregard for Nazi tactics.

President Barack Obama has asked the Justice Department to review the law, which he said threatens "to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans."

Basic notions of fairness? Some Hitler he turned out to be.

Obama is pledging to steam ahead with immigration reform. It's badly needed, though it's hard to be optimistic about it in this toxic political climate.

Last December, on the International Day of the Migrant, immigration reform advocates rallied across Colorado, including here in Glenwood Springs, Colo., where more than 200 people turned out with signs and candles in a downtown park.

Similar rallies took place elsewhere in the high country. Dillion. Avon. Gunnison. Telluride. It was the first time such events targeted ski country, instead of Front Range communities.

"The ski industry is Colorado's second-largest sector," Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition spokeswoman Chandra Russo told me. "It's a $3 million industry, and we really see immigrants as the backbone of the industry."

For a Latino community often seen as living in the shadows of the Roaring Fork Valley, participants in the rally were visible and vocal on a cold Friday night, with steam escaping from their lips as they chanted. Many carried religious votives. Some carried signs in Spanish and English with messages like "Please America, open your heart" and "It's Time."

It was a dangerous looking crowd, let me tell you.

Not everybody's hearts were opening, though.

On the edge of the demonstration, about a half-dozen protesters carried signs opposing immigration reform, and they weren't being nice about it. One sign read, "Deport wetbacks." Another read, "Stop the invasion."

At least, unlike Arizona, they were honest about their racism. "If this is going to continue, the white man is going to have to go to Canada," said a man who identified himself only as Tom and said he lived in Glenwood Springs.

Hmm. If that's the case, Tom better hope Canada is kinder to immigrants than Arizona is. Otherwise, anybody who looks suspiciously pale-faced may have to carry his papers with him, eh?

Contact David Frey via his website,