Shall we play?
If I say Arizona, how do you respond?
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
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Alabama? Apartheid South Africa? Reasonable suspicion? Racial profiling? Suspect populations? Ethnic cleansing? Banned Books?
All good answers. However another one comes to mind, particularly if one is thinking post 9/11: collateral damage.
The date 9/11/2001 will forever be associated with terrorism. It will also be remembered when this country became hyper-vigilant about its borders and also began a clampdown on civil and human rights, particularly against people of Arab descent and peoples of the Muslim faith.
One can also look at the Mexican population in the United States as “collateral damage.” This of course includes people from Central America and South America and the Caribbean. Not all of them, just the ones that look “Mexican.”
If that sounds like a stereotype, it is and that’s the point. That’s what racial profiling is and in the case of the Mexican, the racial profile is Indigenous.
However, it is illogical that the targeting of Mexicans would somehow be related to 9/11. The reason is that the suspected terrorists had nothing to do with Mexico or the US-Mexico border.
In that sense, Mexicans are not really collateral damage. Mexicans have been targets for generations, even centuries. The United States from its very inception coveted Mexican land. And Mexican bodies have been cheap labor (and dehumanized) in this country for well over a century.
That’s a lot of ancient history, but let me cut to the chase: when I say Arizona, how about: “Indian Removal?”
This is not an academic debate over the meaning of Indian removal. Rather, it is the reality on the ground. Not just in Arizona, not just in the borderlands, but rather throughout this entire country. And this is not just a recent occurrence; it goes back long before 9/11, long before my own memory. Since I can remember, Mexicans have always been targeted for removal.
More currently, as a result of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last month, the racial profiling SB 1070 legislation is now in effect in Arizona. The court has permitted section 2B of this unprecedented legislation to go into effect, with the caveat that people should be on the lookout for the violation of peoples’ human rights. This is a throwback to the Jim Crow era. It appears that the courts do not understand how racial profiling works. It is illegal and has always been illegal, at least in modern history. And yet it is as real and as predictable as the sunrise or more aptly, the sunset.
The truth of the matter is that section 2b has always existed in federal law; that is why Mexicans have always been averse to “the migra.” Suffice to say that stories of being racially profiled by border patrol agents are legion; that has long been their job. At one time this odious practice was confined to the border and then later to the border regions. However, nowadays, the entire country has become a border.
What is different, in a general sense, is the state-by-state codification of that same practice by local police. Even prior to the passage of SB 1070 in 2010, local police were already doing this throughout the country, even prior to the 1990s-era 287g agreements, but especially as a result of them. These agreements, in effect, turned local police into border patrol agents.
This notion that somehow police or agents can be trained not to racial profile is to not see the trees from the forest. In this country, Mexicans have always been a suspect population. I will illustrate with a personal example.
I recently crossed the border with a U.S. passport. On my return, I was sent to secondary because purportedly my name matched that of someone who the U.S. government is looking for. Of course, this is not the first time this happens.
The delay was perhaps 15 to 20 minutes. It was not a massive inconvenience, however, what bothered me after-the-fact, was that apparently, my passport was not good enough to be waved through. No other ID that I could produce was “more valid.”
By coincidence, I spoke to a high-ranking government official about this matter afterwards. He would not talk to me unless it was off-the-record, but he did confirm what I have long believed. He said the problem was not with the document, which is the most sophisticated document in the world, with an embedded chip within it. The problem, he said, is that it was I that was suspect.
Shall we play another game?