Do undocumented immigrants want citizenship? Are they more likely to be dangerous criminals? Do they hurt the economy? Do they steal jobs and lower wages? The two sides in the Arizona debate have vastly different answers to these questions. On the face of it, this stand-off appears to be more about information than opinion.
Produced by Jesse Freeston.
JESSE FREESTON, PRODUCER, TRNN: This is Jesse Freeston for The Real News Network, in Phoenix outside of Arizona’s state capitol building, where opponents of a controversial immigration law known as SB 1070 have gathered to celebrate a temporary injunction that will stop the law from going into effect. But the message of people who have gathered here is very simple: this isn’t over.
CARLOS ALVAREZ, ANSWER COALITION–PHOENIX: It’s a victory, but it’s a temporary victory, meaning that only part of 1070 has been enjoined. You know, it’s up to a higher court now whether or not they’re going to stop 1070 or those provisions that have been enjoined, or whether it’s going to continue. Our belief is that we have to continue to put pressure on it. The reason this happened is because of the pressure that we’ve been putting on the government to stop 1070.
FREESTON: Supporters of the law are equally determined to forge ahead.
JILL ABBOTT, SB 1070 SUPPORTER: And they’re celebrating their victory, but it’s not going to last long, because when it gets to the [US] Supreme Court, that’s where we’ll win.
FREESTON: You don’t have to be in Arizona very long to realize that the two sides of this debate are operating on vastly different information, beginning with the most basic of questions, like: would the undocumented prefer to have legal status?
ABBOTT: The ones who are citizens are the ones that love this country and want to assimilate and be proud of America. But these people fight you to the end.
FREESTON: They’re asking for citizenship. They’re asking to be—.
ABBOTT: Some of them have been here for 15, 20 years and never got their citizenship. And I have a lot of Mexican friends, and they’re all citizens, and they’re all highly intelligent, and they became citizens when they came over here.
FREESTON: One of the demands is for legalization. I mean, I’m sure if you ask most of the people here, they would love to be citizens.
ABBOTT: No, they don’t, or they would have gone and been citizens.
FREESTON: Just minutes earlier, I had met Alejandra Valenzuela, who told me that she would like nothing more than citizenship in a country that she calls home.
ALEJANDRA VALENZUELA, ORGANIZER, PROMISE ARIZONA: —my dad passed away from cancer, and he was the only provider for my family, so we had to come to the United States. I was seven years old. I started elementary and I learned the language by the fifth grade. I’ve been here in the United States. I care for this country. I have learned to love the people in this country, their culture. And it seems like everything was going well until I found out I wasn’t documented. High school year, couldn’t fill up their [inaudible] had a 4.0 GPA, was doing great, involved in my community, clubs. And then they told me I can’t go to college ’cause I don’t have enough money, and I can’t get money from the government.
FREESTON: The idea that undocumented immigrants willingly avoid getting citizenship is extremely widespread. Carlos Alvarez of the Phoenix chapter of the ANSWER Coalition attributes it to ignorance.
ALVAREZ: —is that people did have to come here illegally. I think all those people that said that never had to cross the border, meaning that they never had to run away from the poverty, they never had to run away from wars, they never had to run away from right-wing despots that the US has imposed on other countries. When we’re talking about immigration, we’re talking also about US foreign policy.
FREESTON: On Tuesday evening, I caught a meeting of the Sun City Tea Party as it was adjourning. I spoke to the founder of the Cave Creek Patriots Tea Party Posse, Judy Hoelscher.
JUDY HOELSCHER, FOUNDER, CAVE CREEK PATRIOTS TEA PARTY: My husband and I are currently unemployed, and I have always looked for work that, quote-unquote, they say that “only illegal immigrants will do”. I’m a seamstress. They came here to get the jobs and to depress the wages, and it’s not right that the wages are being depressed for the American citizens. They should be paid a fair wage.
FREESTON: I asked whether or not legalization could solve this problem by bringing migrant workers under labor protection laws so they could demand fair wages.
HOELSCHER: Real unemployment is at 18 percent here and it’s growing. That’s the real unemployment figures. So that’s not going to benefit my family, other people’s families, if we grant the amnesty to have to compete for that many—few jobs and that many more millions and millions of people for those very few jobs. We need to take care of our own American citizens first and not the rest of the world’s Third World citizens.
FREESTON: Monica Ruíz traveled from New York City to protest SB 1070. She says that the job argument is being used to scapegoat immigrants across the country.
MONICA RUÍZ, ANSWER COALITION–NEW YORK CITY: You can see it in the hysteria that they’ve created around the country, where even liberals think, well, we really have an immigration problem. And we want to say to them, we don’t have an immigration problem. This country has had immigrants coming in for centuries. This is the way it is. The only reason this is an issue today, the only reason this is an issue today, is that there is a downturn in the economy, and somebody has to be blamed, someone has to pay, except for the people who should really pay. It’s easier to direct the attention of the vast majority of middle-class people who are losing more than anybody else right now. You know, it’s easy to direct their hatred and their anger and their attention toward, you know, the ones who have the least, rather than making sure that they’re actually looking up and not down.
FREESTON: Further confusing the debate are disagreements over the connection between immigration and crime.
HOELSCHER: We just simply cannot afford illegal immigration. We’re suffering from the crime wave, the drugs that are coming across, murders, rapes. There’s kidnappings. And all because the federal government refuses to control the border, refuses to enforce the law. So the people of Arizona were finally fed up and say, no, we are going to enforce the law if the federal government won’t enforce it.
FREESTON: It’s clear that Mexico-based drug cartels are operating in Arizona. After all, the US is their primary market. And these activities occasionally result in violent attacks on the Arizona side of the border. But according to the Department of Justice, violent crime in Arizona has dropped by 23 percent over the last 10 years. During that same period, the Department of Homeland Security estimates that Arizona’s population of undocumented immigrants has doubled.
ALVAREZ: It’s a lie that says that most undocumented workers are criminals, that they’re terrorists, that they’re drug dealers. Those are blatant lies. Most undocumented workers are workers. They’re people that come to this country that produce a whole lot of riches for this country and see very little of the benefits.
FREESTON: For opponents of SB 1070 who feel the increasing criminalization of immigrants is based largely on misinformation, a climate of hate has taken hold. Phoenix resident Raymond Nowakowski is reminded of his 1957 mission with the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort the Little Rock Nine to class.
RAYMOND NOWAKOWSKI, DEMONSTRATING AGAINST SB 1070: President Eisenhower selected our group to go to Little Rock, Arkansas, where the governor, Faubus, was having his National Guard guarding Central High School and promising the people of Arkansas that it will never be integrated. And we replaced them in front of the high school and escorted the Little Rock Nine into Central High School. There was a hatred against a certain class of people back then, and I see that hatred being built up now.
FREESTON: Despite the injunction on SB 1070, as this video is published, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has launched another one of his famous immigration raids, while also arresting dozens of SB 1070 opponents while they were protesting outside his office.