SB 1070 and the immediate/collateral effects of anti-immigration law

SB 1070 protest

Today, we met with two community leaders, Rosalva and Maria, to discuss the effects of federal and state anti-immigration laws. Anti immigration law has been proliferating throughout the United States since the early to mid-90s. Starting with prominent pieces of legislation such as Operation Gatekeeper in 1994, anti-immigration laws have been aimed at criminalizing undocumented migrants and cutting them off from social services. Reflective of some of our country’s most perverse, jingoist, and nativist tendencies, many, if not most of these laws operate with the aim of promoting attrition through enforcement (in other words, making it as difficult, dangerous, or miserable as possible to enter and/or live in the United States if you do not have documents). The most notorious of these laws include Arizona’s SB 1070. One of the first of several reactionary state immigration laws passed throughout the country following failures in federal immigration reform, SB 1070 allows police officers to as individuals to present their papers at traffic stops if officers have “reasonable suspicion” that a person is undocumented. Following SB 1070’s passage even stricter immigration bills have passed in states including Alabama and Indiana, with Alabama going as far as to demand that school children present documents when trying the obtain a public education.

To demonstrate the ways through which these brutal policies are enforced Rosalva and Maria dressed up in police and Border Patrol uniforms, respectively, and held their mock traffic stop for the Border Studies students. 5 students, myself included, were lined up in a car-like formation and were walked through the policies of SB1070, policies aimed at causing terror and separation. Once “pulled over” we were spoken to in rapid Spanish–those of us who are less in proficient in Spanish were chosen to participate in the exercise—intended to fluster and confuse, we were not read our mock traffic stop rights, and were told that we did not belong in this country. Soon transferred to a mock Border Patrol station, Maria continued to demonstrate the oppressive practices of Border Patrol as she forced us to sign documents which we could not read, upbraiding us for not speaking the “right” language. With our arms bound by bonds with words such as vergüenza (shame) or dolor (pain) written across them, we were all “deported” without real due-process, rights, or representation. However, unlike the hundreds of people who are effected by these policies and practices the white U.S. citizens were able to leave with the rights granted by citizenship, without fear of detention or deportation imparted upon us because of our skin pigmentation, and without our collective dignity systematically attacked by the (in)human institutions that have passed SB1070.

On a personal level, I must admit that my relationship to this exercise is complex, and that it continues to challenge me, and consider my position within the Borderlands. For one, the project did, indeed, leave me feeling incredibly distraught in the sense that I was given yet another insight into how unequivocally wrong the United State’s crypto-facist anti-immigrant agenda is in all of its forms. I can remember standing in front of the classroom with my hands tied. Having been shuttled through this mock process, which was so corrupt, I was left with a visceral reaction at how utterly unjust the laws and policies that govern immigration in this country are. However, these feelings were complex ones. I struggled to reconcile these feelings with the knowledge of my own position as a white male citizen of the U.S., a position that, indeed, allows me to designate this experience as an “insight”. Unlike the 11 million undocumented (and often documented) migrants people’s that live in the United States, at no point can I ever label the experiences presented by in the mock traffic stop as something I’ve ever lived. The emotions conjured during my own mock deportation were not one’s that came from the lived experience of being an oppressed, criminalized, or marginalized person. I do not truly know “how it feels” and that any attempt to express that would be voyeuristic and abusive. Not only did this exercise provide me with some insight into how perverse U.S. immigration policy, but it forced me, once again, to consider my own position and my own privilege as I continue to understand the Borderlands and how I am implicated in and even perpetuate their current state. Further, the problem encountered here is not one that pertains solely to this experience; I expect to encounter it throughout the rest of my life. However, with this problematic in mind, I continue to seek insight into how to better conduct relationships committed to listening, accountability and human flourishing. We’ll see what possibilities appear before me.

Lastly, this postwould be incomplete if I were not to thank Rosalva and María for sharing their time and personal experiences as they pertain to anti-immigration law. As two women who have experienced the jilting sensation of anti-immigration law in their own lives, I thank Rosalva and María for their courage, as they shared these stories and demonstrated situations such as the mock traffic stop: situations which they have either experienced or been affected by personally. Their stories are gifts, which take time and emotional energy to share. I thank them for sharing that which they are not obligated to share to a group of relative strangers, and for inviting us into relationship by sharing stories informed by lived experience of struggle and oppression. Not only do I thank them for sharing their stories, but I also commend them for and support them in their struggle against these systems of control, degradation, and erasure. Their stories play a crucial role in that struggle and give it strength.

— submitted by Alex Cook


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