The Arizona Prairie Fire Spreads

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Like the blazing sparks of a wild prairie fire, the political conflagration set off by Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (SB 1070), a new law that requires police to demand identification and arrest anyone suspected of being in the state without proper immigration documents, is spreading far into the horizon with far-reaching, unpredictable consequences.

Appearing at an Arizona news conference May 15 with Governor Jan Brewer, former US vice-presidential candidate and Tea Party darling Sarah Palin praised SB 1070 as a needed tool to control illegal immigration and an insecure southern border.

“We are all Arizonans now,” Palin said, before heading off to a New Mexico rally attended by 1,200 people in support of Susana Martinez, a border county district attorney sympathetic to SB 1070 who is seeking the gubernatorial nomination on the Republican ticket.

Yet opposition to SB 1070 is picking up steam not only in the US-Mexico border region, but across the world as growing legions of critics slam the new law for opening the door to racial profiling, police harassment and violations of legal due process.

In Nogales, Sonora, a group of about 40 people staged a weekend protest near a border crossing to the US. In addition to denouncing SB 1070, demonstrators protested difficulties in routine legal crossings to the sister city of Nogales, Arizona. Organizations participating in the protest included Fronteras Desiguales, Border Action, Border Angels and Fronteriza Kino, among others.

Across the border in downtown shopping district of Nogales, early signs of the impact of a boycott against Arizona were visible. Local news reports noted fewer vehicles than normal passing through the US port of entry, perhaps in response to a call to boycott Arizona which had been circulating in Mexico.

“It’s dead,” said one merchant of the weekend shopper flow on the US side. Asking not to be identified, the business owner said protesters should be boycotting Phoenix instead of Nogales, because that’s where the “damn politicians” and their electoral supporters live.

According to the merchant, the original settlement of Nogales relied on trade with Mexico long before Arizona even became a US state. Like other US border communities, Nogales economically benefits from Mexican customers who cross into the US seeking bargains.

Earlier, on May 10, the city council of Nogales, Arizona, passed a resolution against SB 1070 as a “morally repugnant” measure. Council representatives criticized the law for usurping federal immigration authority, violating constitutional guarantees of due process, encouraging racial profiling, endangering public safety, creating a divide between law enforcement and ethnic communities, and placing a new economic burden on local governments suddenly confronted with paying for larger numbers of prisoners.

A member of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, Nogales Police Chief Jeffrey Kirkham told council members his group was opposed to the new law.“I have concerns as far as people here in the community reporting crime,” Kirkham was quoted in the media.

Nogales joined Tucson and Flagstaff as Arizona cities officially opposed to SB 1070. Nationally, El Paso, San Francisco and Los Angeles are among cities approving one form or another of boycott against official business with Arizona.

In New Mexico, members of the Border Network for Human Rights prepared a May 17 protest against the Las Cruces City Council’s decision to avoid taking action against SB 1070.

“We hope that they reconsider, and we urge them to take a stand on this issue,” said Louie Gilot, communications director for the Border Network.

Despite supporters’ assurances, Gilot said the Arizona law reeked of racism in the practical way it will be enforced.

“I’m an immigrant from France and you put me next to a Hispanic and you don’t know who the immigrant is,” Gilot said, adding she was confident the law eventually would be overturned in the courts.

“Hopefully, it’s not going to spread to New Mexico or Texas,” Gilot told Frontera NorteSur.

Leading up to the Nogales protests, dubbed “A Day without a Mexican,” the Sonora State Legislature unanimously passed a resolution exhorting the Calderon administration to analyze using international law as a mechanism to blunt the Arizona legislation. Sonora lawmaker Damian Zepeda Vidales, said Mexico’s federal government should examine taking the Arizona controversy to the United Nations Human Rights Commission or the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Carefully worded, the Sonora resolution recognized Arizona’s sovereignty but upheld the “participation and co-responsibility” of nations with regards to international and Inter-American human rights treaties.

Separately, Mexican Chancellor Patricia Espinosa confirmed the Calderon administration would file friend-of-the-court briefs in support of US lawsuits against SB 1070, and contemplate pursuing the case in international legal institutions. SB 1070 is likely to be a topic of discussion between President Calderon and President Obama when the two leaders meet in Washington this week.

With each passing day, SB 1070 is becoming a hotter and hotter wire electrifying cultural discourse in the Americas and beyond. A US-based musician, Eugene Rodriguez, has already written a corrido, or popular ballad, against SB 1070 titled “State of Shame.”

As many as 85,000 youths jammed Mexico City’s Zocalo square for a May 16 concert, “We are all Arizona,” which was headlined by Mexican, Cuban and Chilean musicians opposed to the Arizona law. Prominent acts included Jaguares, Maldita Vecindad and Molotov, the incendiary group whose earlier hit “Frijolero” tackled US racism against Mexicans.

“This performance is dedicated to our brothers who are suffering because of discrimination in Arizona,” said Roco, lead signer of the legendary Mexican rock band Maldita Vecindad. “This is for all the Mexicans and Latinos who’ve had to go to the other side in search of a better place to live.”

In cyberspace, a new Facebook page called “1 Million AGAINST the Arizona Immigration Law SB 1070 ,” claims more than 1.5 million members. Reportedly, followers come from Mexico, Russia, the United States, Poland, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Chile, and Germany. Underlining multiple comments on the page, many contributors contend the United States would be “nothing” without the sweat and toil of Mexican workers.

While organizers of anti-SB 1070 actions debate the scope and depth of the Arizona boycott, the issue has taken a life of its own on the Internet. Some posters urge an expanded boycott to include all US businesses in Mexico, or a boycott of the Los Angeles Lakers because of Coach Phil Jackson’s comments in support of the Arizona law. Pro-SB 1070 forces, meanwhile, urge people to spend money visiting the Grand Canyon and Arizona this summer.

To counter the anti-SB 1070 campaign, the reelection campaign of Governor Jan Brewer has practically covered the home page of its website with a large box urging readers to sign a petition in support of “Securing Arizona’s Border.”

Additional sources:, May 16, 2010. La Jornada, May 12, 16 and 17, 2010. Articles by Tania Molina Ramirez and Notimex. El Universal/Notimex/EFE, May 6, 11 and 16, 2010. Articles by Justino Miranda and Marcelo Beyliss. Nuevo Dia (Nogales), May 16, 2010. Arizona Star/Associated Press, May 16, 2010. Article by Jonathan J. Cooper., May 16, 2010. El Imparcial (Hermosillo), May 15, 2010. Article by Ruben A. Ruiz., May 14, 2010. Nogales International, May 11, 14 and 15, 2010. Articles by Jonathan Clark, Denise Holley and Manuel C. Coppola. Proceso/Apro, May 6, 2010.


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