Controversial Immigration Law Brings Fear, Conversation
I had a spirited and energizing conversation with a man this morning. At Dunkin Donuts, I had grabbed a hot chocolate and a donut and took a seat, beginning to peruse the morning Courant. I couldn't help but notice the man at the next table chatting with a young man, and they were quite engaged. What they were discussing, I do not know; only that they were clearly enjoying their conversation.
Shortly after I sat, the young man left. As I read through the news section of the paper, the gentleman (now with no one to share his time with) asked if there was anything good "in there." I responded by telling him there was lots of crazy stuff.
"Have you heard about what they're doing in Arizona?" I asked him. Before allowing a response, I informed him of the new legislation signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, which makes it a misdemeanor to not possess proper immigration paperwork and also requires police to determine whether people are in the country illegally.
His take on the matter? He feels it's okay...after all, we need to know who's here legally and who's here illegally. I countered with my argument that it's blatant discrimination. Now he didn't tell me what part of the south he's from, but he did tell me that down south it was a way of life to be discriminated against when he was coming up, and it was "just how it was." "But it's still discrimination," I protested.
Noting that I recognized how there were separate toilets, separate water fountains, separate everything, I fervently told him, "Medgar Evers died for freedom from discrimination, Martin Luther King died for freedom, all sorts of folk died for freedom." He mentioned how on the buses he was required to sit in the back. I countered thus, "Yeah, Rosa Parks made a stand for freedom!"
There was no way in which I was going to convince him of the wrong perpetrated on the citizenry of Arizona, though. He was adamant about the need to be certain of who was who. After all, "back in the day, 90% of the black people were outlaws." My protest to that statement brought his estimate down to 80%. I laughed and protested again, to no avail.
I told him about the time I was driving on Weston Street in Hartford with my Jamaican sister, Michelle, on a Sunday morning. We were heading to church and I got pulled over by a police officer. This was shortly after my license plate had been stolen, and I had put the other plate in my back window so as to prevent another theft.
Now I know the only reason I got pulled over was because it was 9:30 on a Sunday morning, I was in North Hartford, and there was a Black woman in my passenger seat. Ostensibly, the reason was the license plate, but Michelle and I both knew better (So did the cop!). Of course, there was no ticket, no warning, just the traffic stop and what we considered to be harassment.
When I told him, he just nodded his head in (I suppose) agreement; acknowledging that it's just how things are. Though he agreed that discrimination was wrong, I could tell that there was no way I was going to change his mind about it being normal and expected.
As for the Arizona law itself, supporters have described it as a way for police to take the handcuffs off police in dealing with illegal immigration in Arizona, a gateway for illegal human and drug smuggling (primarily from Mexico). The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund is planning a legal challenge to the law, saying that it "launches Arizona into a spiral of pervasive fear, community distrust, increased crime and costly litigation, with nationwide repercussions.
Governor Brewer ignored an admonition from President Barack Obama that it would lead to widespread racial profiling. Also, on Thursday, April 21, Mexico's Senate unanimously passed a resolution that urged the governor to veto the law. The Vice President of Guatemala, Rafael Estrada, said the law is "a step back for those migrants who have fought" for their rights; and Guatemala's Foreign Relations Department decried the measure in a statement that said "it threatens basic notions of justice."
Approximately 2000 protestors booed upon learning that Gov. Brewer had signed the bill and, according to County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, "the governor did not listen to our prayers."
Gov. Brewer has ordered that the state's law enforcement licensing agency develop a training course to teach implementation of the law without violations of civil rights. "We must enforce the law evenly, and without regard to skin color, accent, or social status," she said. "We must prove the alarmists and the cynics wrong."
Time will obviously be the judge. President Obama has instructed the Justice Department to examine the law for its legality. He called the bill "misguided" and said the federal government must enact immigration reform at the national level - or leave the door open to "irresponsibility by others."
Now back to my conversation with John (I learned his name just before I departed). We did, in the end, agree to disagree. Our hour-long conversation covered all sorts of topics...church, white folk, New Orleans (somehow I almost always get to insert that topic into conversation), the peculiar habits of church-folk, the need to stay in shape (prompted by a friend of his on her way to the gym to work out).
I would imagine I'll see John again, and I'll welcome it. For me, I'm hoping that the next opportunity will enable me to say "I told you so" about this immigration (anti-immigration) law; but if it's not to be, that will still be fine with me. I'll enjoy another opportunity to share a beverage and a coffee shop with a new friend.
George M. Akerley