Part I: With My Irony Meter Set to Stun
May Day morning I arrived at the State Capitol grounds as an undocumented migrant to protest AZ SB 1070. No, I am not, nor was I, at the time, pretending to be stupid, noble or even clever. It didn’t even have any intended symbolic value to it, just ineptness. Notice, it merely says “migrant” not “immigrant.” I had simply migrated from my home at the So-Hi Peacesign Themepark, west of Kingman, to the state capitol in Phoenix, leaving my driver’s license on the counter at a gas station in Wickenburg on my way down the previous afternoon.
Though my non-documentation had been unplanned; I can’t say that while I was at the rally, or more so afterwards, that the symbolism of the circumstance did not strike me. There I was risking detention for being undocumented when I was protesting against arresting people for being undocumented.
Though there is no doubt that I could have proven the fact I was born a US citizen of US citizen parents, I was still at risk for getting detained. Notice, I did not say “arrested,” merely detained. Merely detained. Unless you've been through it, it is easy to act like it is nothing at all.
In fact as far as some are concerned, it is a wonder why all the silly little babies on the Left have whined so much over the years over such a trivial inconvenience. Perhaps taken downtown and held in a cell while they “ran your prints and made sure everything checked out.” Probably only take a few hours, not too much for an innocent man to sacrifice if it keeps the borders safe, “no harm, no foul,” some say. I say, I don’t think so—full body cavity searches having generally been seen by me and my various cavities/orifices as a bit more than “a mere inconvenience.”
Still, lost license or no, potential probing or not, May Day morning I found myself, like thousands of others drawn to downtown Phoenix to join my voice in the struggle. Unfortunate schedule i was traveling under i arrived five hours before the rally and couldn't stay long. Which was fine because it didn't take long to start finding the comedy in the ongoing disaster 2010 American race relations. As comically rich as it was, my inadvertent anonymity isn’t what pegged the old irony meter that morning. That would be Saturday morning at ten AM, five hours before the main part of the event, when the clean-up crews were still out when I arrived.
First thing I noticed was the veteran press lounging around the satellite trucks of the local affiliates of the major news channels, at the back edge of the parking lot. Their dreary faces and morning coffees showed they thought it was going to be another long and unpleasant day spent standing around talking about what an unpleasant job it is to have to stand around talking about what an unpleasant job you have.
Then, there past the satellite trucks, standing out in the crisp cool of that May Day morning were the shockingly orange jumpsuits of the prisoner slave-labor workforce being used by the police to police the state capitol grounds and parking areas in preparation for the day's rally. Personally, I could possibly be OK in some very specific ways regarding the use of prison labor, but most of what I’ve seen of prison labor is slave labor (having grown up in the county seat of the only county in the US to indict Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales for being part of the prison-industrial complex).
So yeah, let’s not pretend prisons in the US are about justice. They are sold for money and bought for revenge. Prisoner medical neglect and gang violence run rampant. That is the world we throw our immigrant into. In the US, thanks to SB 1070, especially for imprisoned immigrants Arizona, justice also comes at a price. Besides the part about being incarcerated with folks that are often rightly separated from society, once the bill takes effect, immigration prisoners will be charged for their room and board over the course of their time served. At the mandatory minimum built into the bill of six months, that'll run a person about ten grand. Actually the bill says “jail costs,” so who knows what that could mean. Perhaps they will charge the prisoners for the privilege of getting to wear their orange jumpsuits. Perhaps they will have to pay it back by working picking up trash.
Get a lot more prisoners, we could pick up a lot more trash and somebody could make a lot of money manning these houses of pain and others could sell or sew orange jumpsuits, to each according to their immigration status. If no one else SB1070 is guaranteed to be a money maker for fine folks who own prisons.
Everybody knows America likes to punish its prisoners. We don't caudle them like they do in some countries. We make sure they pay. And so Americans tell each other it's OK if someone suffers injustices while in prison. In Arizona, we make a point of electing guys with ideas like that, even when we know they don't need to be so mean about doing their job. As Arpaio himself admitted, the Feds launched an investigation into his operation for prisoner and civil rights abuses shortly after Obama took office. Nowadays, Arpaio and his deputies often trail a pack of watchdog groups aiming to document that next instance of police brutality, which will surely come.
These were the people I was there to protest against. What if I made them mad?
What if, like me, someone had simply been inept, and then inadvertently rubbed the cop the wrong way? Detention. If, as Arpaio insists, the new law is not aimed to target Hispanic or other darker skinned people, then anyone anywhere could be accused of being “an undocumented/an illegal” by just about any government official and a person would have to be detained, you know, only “until your fingerprints clear and everything checks out.” So i could be detained, possibly for days while they work out my citizenship. Just like that. 1070 says any jurisdiction has to pursue the issue of immigration status in all cases and to the general citizenry’s satisfaction, or your local PD can be sued by Joe Schmoe local racist crank, depending on how nasty he's feeling that day. According to Border Action Network's Jennifer Allen, "These provisions in the bill are Pearce’s way to address sanctuary cities because some cities were leaving quite a bit to the officers discretion," Allen, the executive director of Border Action Network, who had not attended discussed the march in a follow-up phone interview while she was in Washington with a delegation of civic leaders from AZ aiming to persuade the Justice Dept. to challenge the law. That night she was preparing for their meeting with asst. Attorney General Tom Perez along with other AZ leaders to talk about what DOJ can do to overthrow or pre-empt it.
In the southeastern corner of the state where the Arpaio's most vocal supporters punch cows, "officer discretion" is a dirty word and illegal immigrants are anything but safe. The area ranchers and the Minutemen militia and all their wannabes are up in arms over border violence, the "rampant border violence," as they say. And the people in southeastern AZ, particularly the older white rancher type people and their militia friends type people say all sorts of things about border violence some of which might be true, few of which are kind hearted as to our neighbors to the south.
But the "rampant border violence isn't one of those things that are true. As AZ Central's number crunchers recently revealed border crime stats have remained flat over the decade. "Nogales Assistant Police Chief Roy Bermudez shakes his head and smiles when he hears politicians and pundits declaring that Mexican cartel violence is overrunning his Arizona border town.
"We have not, thank God, witnessed any spillover violence from Mexico," Bermudez says emphatically. "You can look at the crime stats. I think Nogales, Arizona, is one of the safest places to live in all of America."
Not that truth matters to redneck red-staters on a mission. Getting their way on this bill emboldened the AZ GOP to trot out the equally ethnic bashing HB2281, which, as mentioned earlier, professes to protect students from hatred, but basically bans ethnic studies and literally requires schools to replace teachers based on their accents.
Knowing this, i stared at the orange and blue of the morning police detail--big bright blue baggies, as bright as their orange suits--and i thought how strange it would be if some of those very prisoners, there to prepare the area so we could trash it all over again, what if any of them were falsely jailed on immigration issues, stuck, still waiting for everything to check out. It's not like "jailed," it's merely "detention." But it still looks like picking up trash in orange jumpsuits to me.
Here they were, picking through the grass like birds for breakfast, working as prisoners of the state that imprisoned them and required that they fight the Sisyphean task of cleaning up from one immigration protest to get ready for the next immigration protest to protest the fact that there are people falsely imprisoned and having to pick up trash from protests, etc. That’s when the irony pegged the meter.
--mikel weisser writes from the left coast of AZ and this is my 100 political column since resuming political humor in 2007 following my mother-in-law and wife's deaths in 2005. That number is a victory for me.