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Arizona: Do I Look Illegal?

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Sorry I have been an absent blogger lately… I am on the road to the Wisdom 2.0 Conference near San Jose, CA, which starts today. It should be an interesting combination of high tech and mindfulness, with speakers like Roshi Joan Halifax, Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos), and Meng Tan (of google).

This road trip took me through Arizona, so the recent passage of  SB1070 (the anti-immigration/immigrant law) has been very much on my mind. No matter what your thoughts about the current state of immigration, my take on it is that as human beings and socially engaged Buddhists we should be outraged by and speaking out against this piece of legislation. Why?

  • It’s mean-spirited… the opposite of lovingkindness.
  • It’s a massive display of white privilege. The bill mandates law enforcement officers to determine people’s immigration status based on “reasonable suspicion.” What exactly does that mean? If you have brown skin, you’re a suspect. Hey, how about me? I might be an illegal German/Slovenian immigrant. But would anyone ever think of that? Bingo. Racial profiling.
  • It will create a climate of  distrust, and will almost certainly prevent people from reporting crimes to the police out of fear of being deported.
  • It’s redundant… the federal government is already responsible for enforcing immigration laws (for better or worse).

Here’s one way to respond, cooked up by some Facebook members:

In defiance of the new bill in Arizona and in support of the Arizona citizens who will face harassment every time they step out their doors, the call is out for everyone to ask the question: “Do I look “illegal?” during the week of May 1st to May 8th. The focus is on raising awareness on the day of May 1st but by the overwhelming response, putting out this message is extending for the rest of the week.

Post the question as your status on Facebook. Throughout the day, send the question out on Twitter. Ask one another the question, “Do I look illegal?” Hopefully, this will get all of us thinking and discussing what exactly does “illegal” look like..

Finally, wear shirts, buttons or hold signs saying, “Do I look ‘illegal’?” and take pictures to either send to Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona and/or post them [on Facebook]..

Her mailing address is:
Jan Brewer
Governor of Arizona
1700 West Washington
Phoenix, Arizona 85007

So I’m looking for a t-shirt to wear tomorrow. There’s also a good online letter to Sen. Brewer that you can sign and send, from the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Let us know what you plan to do, and your thoughts on this issue.

Correction: In the original post, I wrote that “The bill mandates law enforcement officers to determine people’s immigration status based solely on “reasonable suspicion.” Actually, there is a provision in the bill that race cannot be the sole grounds for reasonable suspicion. However, as attorney Patrick Rung writes: “even if that’s the case, what non-racial basis can be used to justify a check of a person’s immigration status? So far, that’s a question that no one – including the proponents and authors of the bill – can adequately answer. And that makes it subject to a vagueness attack.”

About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

11 responses »

  1. Here’s another update to this post — I just found a great entry by blogger Justin Whitaker, “Toward a Buddhist Immigration Policy.” Check it out:

  2. I’m still trying to figure out how to respond to this, to be honest. But I did write a post about it, and included a link to yours to give people somewhere to start.


  3. I’m a newcomer to this blog. Nice one, by the way. I have mixed feelings about the Arizona Law and about the immigration issue in general. But I would like to respond to the points your made.

    What is mean-spirited about the law? Please point out specifically. I think people are responding to this emotionally and not rationally.

    White privilege? I don’t think so. The majority of the police officers responsible for enforcing this law and most of the Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police in Arizona are Hispanic.

    A climate of distrust is already present, if that were not the case then no one would have concerns about racial profiling etc.

    Yes, the Federal Government is responsible for enforcing immigration laws but they aren’t doing squat about it. That’s why we have a problem. If Arizona passed a law you liked and it intruded on the Fed’s domain, I’m sure that would be another matter.

    We have a problem with illegal immigration. Everyone admits it. Right or wrong, this law is an attempt to deal with it. I am not convinced that it’s so bad, and I’m a liberal (and a Buddhist).

    No one, believe me, no one, is more distrustful of cops than me. But, we have to do something about this problem. You don’t like this answer? Fine. What’s your big idea?

    I think those who are protesting the Arizona law would spend their time more productively if they tried to come up with some fixes. I don’t believe wearing a t-shirt that says “Do I look Illegal?” is going to do anything but help to acerbate the situation. Where is the dialogue in that? Who will spend some time working on a better solution?

    Nagarjuna, in the Ratnavali, says: “Those who speak beneficially are rare. Even more rare are those who listen. And more rare yet than these are those who quickly implement something beneficial.”

  4. Hi David, I have a couple thoughts about your questions.

    “What is mean-spirited about the law? Please point out specifically.” I cannot respond to that until you first show me your papers.

    “White privilege? I don’t think so. The majority of the police officers responsible for enforcing this law and most of the Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police in Arizona are Hispanic.” White privilege has nothing to do with police or the enforcement of the law. White privilege is a reference to the hegemony that created this law. It is a paradigm. The police didn’t write this law. White men did, and by the way, it’s white men with very significant ties to national socialism.

    “We have a problem with illegal immigration.” What is this problem? Really. What is the problem? These are fabrications. As Buddhists, are we not supposed to relate to others as humans, or are we supposed to relate to others as problems? How has illegal immigration been problematic for you as an individual? As a human?

    Perhaps the real problem are the coyotes who traffic in illegals. Perhaps the real problem is that there remains industries that do not pay enough to attract anyone other than illegal aliens. Perhaps the problem is what you find to be unacceptable living conditions are actually a step up for an illegal alien.

    As long as we believe there is a problem, then there is a problem. But this is a fabrication. It is empty. And there are many whose position of power and control depends on others believing there is a problem.

    • Richard, I left a rather long reply to your blog post (I finally figured out how to do it, and I’m assuming you’re the same Richard) before I read this. You make some thoughtful points but I am not sure if they really address the issue.

      Loathe as I am to quote republicans, let me tell you about one time when the late, great Sonny Bono, after he was a senator, was asked by a reporter, “What’s the problem with illegal immigration?” Sonny replied, “It’s illegal isn’t it?”

      Until our society evolves to the point where we no longer need governments or rules to live by, then our country must be a nation of laws. How can you justify allowing some people to break the law, but not others? And if you point out that there is a difference between someone entering the country illegally and some committing murder, then I say, from where you are coming from, the ultimate truth, the distinction you are making between the two is a false one. from the ultimate truth, all laws are equal, and, of course, equally empty.

  5. Thank you for taking this issue and dialogue another layer down from my original post. I’ve been preoccupied with the Wisdom 2.0 conference that I blogged about elsewhere and haven’t had a chance to respond, but Richard actually responded to David’s questions in a similar way to what I would have said.

    I also appreciate Richard’s post on this topic here:

    David, I am all the way with you in echoing Nagarjuna’s encouragement to speak and act beneficially. Immigration is a huge, complex issue, and we aren’t going to solve it soon, but we certainly need constructive ideas, not angry reactions to each other. And that’s why I find the AZ bill so onerous… it advances the anger and unconscious bias dimension of this issue forward, not the constructive approaches. It is mean-spirited because it cannot but help to target one ethnic group (Latino/a) rather than others. If it was worded in such a way that police officers were required to ask EVERYONE for proof of citizenship, I would feel differently. But what exactly is “reasonable suspicion”? It’s similar to the way I feel when I go through airport security and I wonder what their criteria is for choosing who to take aside for extra searching. I’d rather they just search each one of us equally as thoroughly.

    It’s not that I am against law enforcement or that I’m for totally unregulated immigration (I’m actually not sure how I feel about the issue, which is why I find Richard’s post intriguing), but this particular piece of legislation is so blatantly discriminatory and hostile that I feel a sense of responsibility to speak out about it. It strikes me as similar to the laws that were passed in Nazi Germany that singled out Jews and other marginalized groups.

  6. What I would like to know is: Did the Injuns have a say when the Mayflower floated over? What about all those English who floated over, refusing to learn the culture and language of the ‘redman’. Talk about boat people refusing to assimilate!!

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