Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Weekend Assignment #330: Baja Arizona Libre!

I was going to call my entry for Weekend Assignment #330: Op-Ed "Fear and Loathing in Arizona," but I'm in too good a mood for that. Let's start by listing what the assignment actually is, and then I'll tell you about my unexpected WA-related adventure:

Weekend Assignment #330: Op-Ed

Time to flex your writing muscle again, because for this week only, the Weekend Assignment blog is being changed to The Weekend Assignment Chronicle! Now, we need some Op-Eds to make things a little more interesting around here. Your assignment is to pick a current event and write your opinion regarding it. Anything goes. Write about politics, the economy, or maybe even your opinion about an incident in pop culture. It's all good. It's good to exchange opinions, especially when it's done with respect. So, feel free to speak up here!

Extra Credit: Do you read the Op-Eds? Yes? No? Tell us about it!

Originally I was going to rant a rant about Congress reducing food stamps and refusing to extend unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, squeezing our poorest people and people made chronically jobless by our faltering economy. But then last night on The Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel mentioned that her executive producer, Bill Wolff, and producer/Maddow Blogger Laura Conaway, would be in Tucson Tuesday evening after a morning spent along the Arizona border near Nogales. Further details were announced on the Maddow Blog: Bill and Laura would be at a meet-up and watch party at the Hotel Congress at 6:30 PM. That was all I needed to know. I'm very fond of The Rachel Maddow Show, an MSNBC show of news and comment. Rachel is one of the smartest people in political broadcasting, someone devoted to factual research and rational thinking. She refutes factually-challenged claims nightly on TRMS, typically with an amused smile and the occasional chuckle. She is friendly and polite, even to people on the political right, who tend to be afraid to appear on her show, lest she disprove everything they say, usually with footage of those same people saying the opposite. She is, in short, a national treasure.

Bill Wolff, her executive producer, is the Lorne Michaels of broadcast news, just as funny but younger and cuter. (Sorry, but you are.) I like him a lot from his tv and online appearances, and I wanted his autograph; so I printed out a page of the Maddow Blog on which was printed a car's thermometer reading of 106 degrees. I'm sure lots of people told him today that it gets much hotter than that here, some days. It wasn't all that humid, so 106 today was relatively painless. Anyway, I brought a printout of that downtown to be signed, on the grounds that he couldn't autograph my tv.

There were about 150 people at the bar in the historic Hotel Congress, one of my favorite places downtown (the hotel, not the bar). Bill Wolff said he'd been expecting about twelve people, including his dad, who lives on the west side of town. They ran out of The Rachel Maddow Show hats before I got there, but I got a TRMS phone cover and a deck of MSNBC playing cards.

Getting "wired"

Producing from the bar with BlackBerry and webcam.

Shyness and courtesy prevented me from formally approaching Bill Wolff before or during the TRMS broadcast, but I stationed myself just a few feet to his right as he produced the show from his laptop. He had a not-very-good webcam and an earpiece, and the people at the other end of his live feed had a little trouble hearing him over the roar of the crowd. At one point shortly before the Arizona segment, his laptop's battery started to run down, and producer Laura Conaway scrambled to get it plugged in to an outlet behind the bar.

The time came for the Arizona segment, which opened with Wolff's interview with Sheriff Tony Estrada of Santa Cruz County, Arizona. Wolff was very impressed with the guy, who had a good sense of what's really going on along the border, and how at odds the reality is with the fear-mongering claims of politicians. The sheriff pointed out that the anti-immigrant fervor mostly comes from people in "the State of Maricopa County" (read: metro Phoenix) in the upper half of the state, several hours from the border. People in Tucson and the rest of Southern Arizona tend to be much more moderate in their views. The sheriff believes that politicians in Maricopa County fan the flames of xenophobia for political gain, and will move on to something else once they're safely reelected.

After the broadcast, other fans of the show told Bill Wolff about "Baja Arizona," the humorous concept that Democrat-leaning Southern Arizona would love to secede from the rest of the state, with a cutoff at the Gila River south of Phoenix. He liked that idea.


By the way, when I Googled "baja arizona libre" I got a hit from husband John on the first page of results, from a two word comment on the Huffington Post. I told him about it and he laughed.

Eventually, with the intercession of a kindly stranger, I introduced myself to Bill Wolff. I told him that a few months ago I forwarded to him an email accidentally cc'ed to a Democrat by Russell Pearce, the fearmongering politician behind SB 1070. The email makes it clear that the purpose of a then-pending tweak to SB 1070 was to make it easier to harass Hispanic people in Arizona:

From: KS
To: Undisclosed-Recipient:
Sent: 4/29/2010 1:41:23 AM
Subject: Russell Pearce Message

 Hi All,
Following is an email I've received, obviously by mistake, from AZ State Sen Russell Pearce to his legal advisor, Kris Koback of the University of Missouri Law School. Looks like they want to amend 1070 so that they can profile people with, say, cars up on blocks or too many people in a other words, poor people.  I didn't quite know what to do with this, but noticing the confidential nature of it, thought I should forward it as widely as possible.  God works in mysterious ways.
PS  I'd already sent this to some of you, but thought that I should explain myself in this additional email.

From: russellpearce
Sent: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 11:23 PM
To: Russell K. Pearce ; ks
Subject: Fw: One more change!

This needs to go to Sarah on the amendment to clarify SB1070
----- Original Message -----
From: Kobach, Kris W.
To: russellpearce ;
Sent: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 7:42 PM
Subject: One more change!

I discussed all of the changes with Mike Hethmon and he concurred.  But there is one additional point that he suggested--which you will certainly agree with.  When we drop out "lawful contact" and replace it with "a stop, detention, or rest, in the enforcement a violation of any title or section of the Arizona code" we need to add "or any county or municipal ordinance."   This will allow police to use violations of property codes (ie, cars on blocks in the yard) or rental codes (too many occupants of a rental accommodation) to initiate queries as well.
I have not received anything from the people on the phone this afternoon.  Please ensure that they make this addition as well.  Thanks!
***This communication is protected by attorney-client privilege.  Do not share with others.

Then we chatted briefly about St. Michael's, and my parish's collective understanding of the human tragedy stemming from our broken immigration process. I said that most people from St. Michael's care about social justice, and that there's something seriously wrong when a thousand people die in the desert in a single year, just trying to make their way to a better life in a country where they can earn, by their standards, a living wage. Bill Wolff enthusiastically agreed. He said it was the most natural thing in the world for someone in a country with very little by way of money, jobs, or food to want to cross a border into a country where these things can be earned. He said that in all their mostly-"made-up" statistics, supporters of SB 1070 and the repeal of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution (!) neglect to consider that these are human beings. That's very true. They're human beings, and they're suffering. But xenophobic politicians and their followers prefer to demonize these people, to think of them as mostly murderers and drug dealers, people who will break into your home, steal your job and use all the social services so there's nothing left for you.

Baloney. People in the country illegally pay sales taxes, in some cases property taxes, and in most cases payroll taxes, and take little or nothing out of the system. An undocumented worker often uses a fake Social Security number. Taxes get paid in, but because it's a fake number, benefits can't be paid out for disability or retirement. Meanwhile they buy food and goods, helping to support the Arizona economy. True, they send money home to Mexico as well, but on balance the effect is a positive one. But don't tell that to the Republicans, the tea partiers and the xenophobes. It doesn't fit what they want to believe, and what they want you to believe.

Bill Wolff (who never did get a beer in the two hours I was there) said one more interesting thing, and I told him one more interesting thing. He said that the lack of enforcement along the border is a myth. Wherever they went down there, the Border Patrol turned up within minutes, making their rounds. I can tell you that the Border Patrol office in Tucson is a huge complex, just a few miles from me at the corner of Swan and Golf Links. I imagine the Nogales contingent is even larger.

My interesting thing was that a group called BorderLinks (I had to look up who it was later this evening) put on an interactive presentation at St. Michael's this past spring. They cast ten or twelve parishioners to role play as would-be legal immigrants, each with a different background and scenario. About half of these fictional immigrants, based on the actual laws and statistics, had a positive result: they were allowed to get a green card and a path to citizenship - eventually. The timetable for this successful attempt at legal immigration tended to be a decade or longer, in some cases much longer, just for permanent residency status. The exceptions were for rich sports stars, and for professionals with Stateside companies actively advocating for them and smoothing the way. Equally deserving applicants, including some of those with family members in the U.S., had no chance at all of immigrating legally. And it's not fair.

The other side of this argument is not working from facts, but from fear and bigotry. The average undocumented worker is not a drug dealer or a human smuggler, although such people do exist. Harassing people in a state that's one third Hispanic, on the suspicion of being in this country illegally, does not help law enforcement go after the actual criminals; it merely ties up resources in a state that's not exactly flush with money right now. Undocumented workers tend to take jobs that "Anglos" don't want, for less money than other workers demand. They are the day laborers, the crop pickers, the seasonal construction workers. Enforce the laws against hiring them, and Arizona businesses may be forced to pay more money to hire people who are here legally. If that is done, people who come here specifically to get work will be less likely to make the dangerous crossing for jobs that aren't there. Already, law enforcement statistics show that fewer people are coming in, because the recession has made all jobs more scarce.

But that doesn't matter, because "They" are brown and scary and evil, and taking over. Aren't they?

Well, no. They're not.


More photos from the meetup can be found on my Flickr set.


Anonymous said...

Joe B from Middow blog. Thanks for your comments and ubove is a good story. You are right about the social security and taxes. my email is I am currently developing programs with the Mexican government to help stimulate the Mexican economy and hopefully bring back some of their people. They are fighting the drug cartels hard and paying a big price but wont win without US partnership in a problem that is just as bad in the US. I watched the Middoew show video on the police officers arresting their superior officer and believe she made a poor statement about vigilanty justice. The police force needs more so to start cleaning from within and that goes for the US. These guys are going into battle and don't need their enemy warned. Other than that I like the girls show and she and her crew do seem to care. I gave you myemail so you can send me something to send you some documents if you want. I have some interesting suggestions on government, war, immigration and education. Everything comes from 38years experience as a Christian in upper managment of international business, being a 5 tour vet of Vietnam and devoted American. Everyone wants me to write a book and maybe I will but right now I'll just share my thoughts if someone wants them.

Stephen Watkins said...

Thank you, that was wonderful.

This was one of the topics that I didn't feel comfortable ranting about in an "op-ed" this week... on account of having a disagreeable experience with loved ones over the topic. I don't understand why so many people lack the basic sympathy and human decency to want to help others in need... but I guess I'm naive in believing we live in a world where we don't have to be selfish.

I received an e-mail from a family member (an older family member who, I suspect, considers herself politically conservative for no other reason than that she just hasn't thought about it) asking me to forward on a message to congress critters or somesuch showing my "support" for the Arizona law.

I sent back an e-mail not only declining... but explaining why I thought the law was both morally wrong and definitely racial profiling. I haven't heard from this relative since - even though normally she sends me tons of religiously-themed e-mail chains. It made me sad to realize she was probably offended by my opinion.

Then, I had another conversation with another loved one, and while she's not conservative firebrand, by any stretch of the imagination, I nonetheless turned rather mean on her when it started sounding like she was defending what I considered an indefensible law. I realized only much later that, perhaps, I could've been a little more circumspect in describing my position...

Those are a couple of the recent events that prompted my own "not an op-ed" response to the assignment.