Seconds after signing with an "unwavering" hand one of the most anti-immigrant pieces of legislation in the United States, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer returned to the podium, grabbed on to both sides of the lectern, and audibly sighed. A political rather than a practical or moral decision to approve SB1070 seemed to be already weighing heavily on this Republican's shoulders, enough to crush her were it not for the hope this may be just the right move to get her reelected in November.
On the front lawn of the state's Capitol, thousands of us marching and chanting waited for almost a week for an answer that came uneventfully this Friday. A half an hour before she signed SB1070, dozens of local and state police in riot gear formed a carefully-selected perimeter around the building and stood ready to serve and protect, or whatever else was necessary should the going get rough.
Upon learning of the Governor's signing of the bill, silence was king -- followed immediately by a variety of four letter words uttered in disbelief and anger by the more than seven thousand people gathered here. Then a thundering, collective, "Si Se Puede, Yes We Can" took over the momentary paralysis.
My immediate reaction to the news was anger and disappointment -- especially as I was in the midst of this sea of mostly young future leaders and voters of America. A day earlier, 56 of us had traveled by bus from Los Angeles to Phoenix to weigh in and stand in solidarity with immigrant communities in Arizona on the verge of experiencing the wrath of this destructive and shameless so-called "tool" against illegal immigration. The governor was now live on television, going ahead with her political ploy surrounded by ranchers and signing a polarizing and insensitive law.
I am a child of El Salvador's 12-year low-intensity conflict fueled by funds, weapons, and "advisories" blessed by Uncle Sam. The scars of a childhood wrapped in fear and uncertainty bled today again as I watched the militarization of a beautiful state park, including helicopters hovering above. I was reminded of my grandmother's gentle advise that these dark clouds shall pass and a new day will sparkle.
With this in mind, I approached Rosalio, a 62-year old ice-cream cart vendor standing next to a close-to-empty pushcart. "I sold all the ice cream today. But I really don't like these things," he tells me pointing to the Capitol building. "I am worried I will be walking down the street trying to earn my living honestly, and now I can be easily stopped, and to the trash will go 35 years of my life trying to be of some good here in Arizona." The man did not hesitate to add: "I'm not a learned man, but I have read the constitutions of Mexico and the United States and what I understand is that I am no different than the kids protesting here today or the cops protecting the [Capitol] building. I just hope the president of who ever does something quick, or we will see a lot of people suffer. If he doesn't do it, let us remind him he promised us to make things better in America."
Experts remind us that, just as Prop 187 in California was declared unconstitutional in 1994, so too will SB1070 suffer a slow and painful death in the courts. As CHIRLA, we will join these lawsuits and help cause its demise. In the meantime, however, the measure has already poisoned the well of public discourse in Arizona, and many immigrant families say they have had it with being labeled criminals when they are otherwise decent, working men and women. The crowd outside the Capitol was conspicuously missing older men and women, who were most likely watching their young ambassadors on television do their pleading.
The cancer of intolerance is expected to go into effect 90 days after the end of Arizona's legislative session in May. That gives all of us plenty of time to continue mobilizing communities nationally and to continue pressing President Obama and Congress to apply the necessary brakes on this runaway vehicle of discrimination. It is extremely necessary for all of us who object to racial profiling, discrimination, racism, and divisiveness to stand up and call the question on Arizona and the federal government for failing to offer a long-term solution to illegal immigration. May 1 will be the next big opportunity to send a loud and clear message: that we are not an insensitive and racist nation, but a God-loving and tolerant people who seek a middle ground to our society's most vexing problems.
The President condemned the measure forcefully minutes before Brewer signed it. I applaud the president for standing up for our constitutional principles and humane values. He also needs to use the same type of passion to ensure the federal government does not enable other states to cry for help in extreme and unhelpful ways and press Congress to no longer stall on immigration reform. If he does not use his influence immediately, it will be acceptable to also call his Administration misguided and irresponsible.