A project of the Center for Community Change

Black Brown and Beyond

Sheriff Joe Arpaio: Can we shut this guy down yet?

Though I caught wind of this story last week, I just sat down to do some research this morning and all I can say is “Are you KIDDING me?!?!”. Last week Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has made a name for himself by hunting down the “illegals” of Maricopa County, Arizona, admitted that clothing, conduct and speech are the characteristics that help him determine the immigration status of potential targets. He may as well have said “Well, I racially profile people. That’s how I know”. Incredible. Check out the clip below:

Arpaio is facing ever-increasing scrutiny over his immigration enforcement practices and is currently under a Department of Justice investigation for the countless allegations of racial profiling leveled at his agency. Apparently, Arpaio’s biggest defense was the Federal law he mentioned in the video above. The irony is, the Federal law that Arpaio cites as giving him the power to use these characteristics in his enforcement practices isn’t a law at all. In fact, its a legal analysis that was published by none other than FAIR, the anti-immigrant organization designated a hate group by the SPLC.

However, Matt Bunk of the Arizona Capitol Times points out that no such language exists in any federal immigration law and that the document that Arpaio continuously referenced and passed out at a press conference is actually a legal analysis published by a designated hate group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

When questioned about this, Arpaio admitted that it “might not be a law” but that there was “definitely a law out there” that gave him the power to do this. Basically, Arpaio is admitting that he is operating OUTSIDE of the law and has pledged that he will continue to do so, regardless of how far the administration goes in reigning in his powers.

In fact, even though the government has stripped Arpaio’s authority to conduct immigration raids in Maricopa County, he has promised that today he will be conducting one of his famous sweeps. No word yet on if that’s happened, but it’s clear that this man’s power needs to be taken away. Senator Jose M. Serrano had a letter to the editor published in today’s New York Times, where he gets to the heart of the issue:

…Extremists like Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, are just part of the problem; federal policies that empower these men represent the underlying threat to immigrant communities.

The system is broken. And the longer it waits to be fixed, the more dangerous this threat will become.

[via Andrea Nill at Think Progress]

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GOP: This is Your Future Calling (and Sorry, It’s Brown)

This week, the GOP launched their new website and it was like a little gift to the progressive blogosphere. The site was riddled with bugs, went down almost immediately and had some interesting (if not wholly factual) content.

I’ve been thinking about blogging about it, but America’s Voice beat me to the punch. They did such a good job I’m just going to cross-post here (with their permission).

Yesterday the GOP launched a trendy, new website at www.GOP.com.

Only one problem: the GOP, according to the Politico’s Ben Smith, completely forgot about its future.

Smith reports:

This is, a youngish Republican points out to me this morning, a bit of an unfortunate place for an empty page on the Republican National Committee’s nifty new website.

That would be the “Future Leaders” page.

Liberal bloggers had a field day with the news—so much so that the page was updated that same day to include an interactive, “Who are the future leaders of the Republican Party?” section.

So, who/what is the future of the GOP—a great question as we brace ourselves for the crucial next leg of a national immigration reform debate.  Coincidentally, that debate started in earnest yesterday, too, with a rally at the U.S. Capitol where Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) laid out the principles for real reform.

As we’ve argued consistently at America’s Voice, Republican politicians have been guilty of using immigrants as a wedge issue for so long that they are in real danger of sacrificing their future with Latino, minority, and swing voters. With Representative Gutierrez and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) laying the groundwork to move forward on real immigration reform in the weeks and months ahead, the question takes on renewed importance.

GOP leaders have used the “ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT” bogeyman to derail progress on a number of critical issues, from health care, to the flu pandemic, to economic recovery, but they’ve mainly succeeded in further marginalizing themselves among Latino voters and other swing demographics who want policymakers to solve tough problems — not pander with cheap scare tactics.

Florida’s Republican Senator Mel Martinez, who retired in August, consistently argued that the GOP must change course if it cares at all about the future:

“Republicans risk their political future since Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the US.”

As George W. Bush’s former speechwriter, Michael Gerson, pointed out in  “Suicidal Policy:”

Now hearings are beginning on another immigration reform bill, with a legislative debate likely to ripen in 2010. For Democrats — pledged to comprehensive reform but weighing union opposition to a temporary worker program — the debate will be difficult. For Republicans, it may be an invitation to political suicide.

Some conservatives dismiss electoral considerations as soiled and cynical. They will make their case, even if that means sacrificing Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and . . . Indiana. Yes, Indiana, which had supported Republican presidential candidates for 40 years before Obama captured it on the strength of Hispanic votes. This is a good definition of extremism — the assumption that irrelevance is evidence of integrity. In fact, it is a moral achievement of democracy that it eventually forces political parties to appeal to minorities and outsiders instead of demonizing them. The scramble for votes, in the long run, requires inclusion.

The political cost of losing Latino and minority support in exchange for short-sighted, dog-whistle rhetoric could mean a very, very empty “future leaders” section for decades—and elections— to come.  Over the next few months, we’ll see which path they choose.

Cross-Posted at Huffington Post.

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Robert Gittelson: Immigration Reform and Racial Tensions


Another guest post from Robert Gittelson. My apologies to Robert for not getting this up sooner – he submitted it Friday!

The taboo subject of racism in this country was served up on a silver platter for President Obama to address this week, (by former President Jimmy Carter, among others), and the President passed. I am positive that on some level, he probably wished that he could take this opportunity to address that important subject, but because of sensitive political considerations, felt that the time wasn’t right for him to speak. I, on the other hand, am not restrained in that regard, so I will not have to pass. Therefore, I wish to put in my two cents.

First of all, let me be clear. There is no question but that racism is alive and well in this country, and around the world. In some, it is a deep seated hatred, and in many, it is a subtle bias. In most, it is something that we dare not talk about in mixed company. By the way, mixed company in this case is a perpetuation of that very bias, because mixed company means “others,” or people that are, in some way, shape, or form, differentiated from ourselves.

Let me explain what I mean. When I was a kid, my parents got very upset with me for telling a “Polish” joke. At the time, polish jokes were the rage. They explained that Polish jokes were offensive to Polish people, and so I stopped telling those types of jokes. Nowadays, the same jokes are often repeated as “blond” jokes. I myself am blond, but I turn the other cheek.

Similarly, being white, I dare not ever use the “N” word. Of course, black people are free to use the word all the time, but if a white person says it, he can literally be taking his life in his hands. Being blond, (okay, a little grey), and having blue eyes, (okay, a little green), in my lifetime I have heard many, many Jewish racial epithets or racially insensitive slurs against Jews, but only because I don’t look particularly Jewish, (I am). However, if you want to hear a really good Jewish joke, ask a Jew. In fact, my mother – the one who told me never to tell Polish jokes – just e-mailed me about 30 of them to me; (Example: “There is a big controversy on the Jewish view of when life begins. In Jewish tradition, the fetus is not considered viable until it graduates from medical school”).

The point that I’m trying to make, is that until the day when a black man can tell that joke to an Asian American, in front of a Jew, and they can all chuckle about it without being self-conscious, there will exist an element of racial tension.

So, what does all of this have to do with Comprehensive Immigration Reform? Everything. I know in my heart, and in my mind, that racial intolerance is behind a percentage of the “anti’s” resistance to CIR. How high of a percentage? I don’t know, but does it really matter? The fact is that to a degree, there is an element of racial bias that is behind the “anti” movement. Ironically, it will not be until long after CIR passes, perhaps not until a generation or two has passed, that we will see real progress toward the assimilation of immigrants into the “accepted” mainstream of our culture, and the seamless fabric of our society. That is the way it is, because that is the way that it has always been in America, and around the world.

People are, as a species, wary of the members of another tribe, or strangers from the next village over. Call it a healthy skepticism. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up – much less people that are strangers – because we acknowledge that a difference exists. Human nature dictates that until we get to know these people on a personal basis, we will be cautious of them. Perhaps in many cases, we are automatically predisposed to distrust a certain race or culture through previous bad experiences, or through an upbringing that preaches against tolerance of certain “others.” That is tough to break, because we have to unlearn what we are raised to believe. The only chance that we have, as a society that wishes to tear down the walls of racial insensitivity, is to first tear down the physical or metaphysical walls that separate us.

Until the day when the 12 – 20 million undocumented immigrants amongst us are free to work, live, and fully participate in our society, full assimilation is impossible. We cannot and should not be a country that has a “caste” system, similar to what was the accepted norm in India. In this case, the “illegal” caste is stigmatized, and if the anti’s succeed in obstructing CIR yet again, they will perpetuate a caste of “untouchables” right here in the land of the free.

So why me? Why am I working so hard to get CIR passed? After all, I’m here legally, and nobody is asking to see my papers. Is it because of my long work experience with immigrants? Partially. Is it because I see this struggle on a daily basis because of my wife’s Immigration practice? Partially.

The other day, I spoke at a press conference about CIR, and particularly about the role of the census, and it’s importance. Afterwards, I was mingling with many of my fellow speakers. One of them was an Hispanic inner city teacher, and we had an interesting discussion. However, one thing that she said goes to the heart of why I am so involved in speaking out about this issue. She thanked me for speaking out about CIR, because, in her words, “people needed to hear about this issue from someone like me.” She wasn’t talking about my work experience, she was talking about the fact that I am white. Of course that is true, and that is, in fact, one of the main reasons why I speak out. Call it an unfortunate fact.

People need to hear white people like me advocate for CIR, because we look like we could be Republicans. It’s not that my “white” words carry more weight than “brown” words, but we carry different weight. A brown person can say many convincing things about the urgent need for CIR, but some white people won’t be as receptive to his or her arguments coming from a brown person as they would be if they came from a white person. Call it another unfortunate fact.

Let us remember all the way back in history to last year. Among the “progressive” Democrats, 90% of women voted in certain primaries for Hilary Clinton, where in the same primaries, 90% of Black people voted for now President Obama. There were no major or fundamental differences between their positions on the issues. The blacks voted black, and the women voted women. That is racial or gender bias that is measurable, and it is real. Therefore, the Democrats should not feel that they have a monopoly on moral indignation when it comes to issues of bias. There exists in this country a “healthy” fear of the “other.” The problem is that the fear is not actually healthy at all. Our racism holds us back from our potential for greatness. We are, as a country, less than we should or could be, through our biases, and because our minds are not as open as they should or could be.

This is a time of great possibility for our nation. We took a tentative first step toward the moral high ground, and voted for change. Now we have to have the courage to embrace it. We stuck our toe in the water when we voted for Obama. Now we have to be brave enough to go “all the way in.” There is nothing easy or comfortable about confronting racial issues. However, doesn’t that fact make these conversations all the more important?

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