While liberals have been outraged about Arizona’s new immigration law, quite a few commentators have defended the measure as necessary. Usually the argument sounds something like this, “The federal government has punted the ball on immigration! Arizona receives a huge number of illegal immigrants had to do something to stem the tide! This is something.” David Broder made a version of this argument in yesterday’s Washington Post, and Daniel Larison argued a similar point a few days ago in the American Conservative. Ignoring, for now, the fact “something” doesn’t imply “anything,” it’s interesting to me that those in favor of Arizona’s law — or at least those sympathetic to it — fail to see its racial dimensions. To them, this really just is a desperate attempt on Arizona’s part to control its borders.

In all honesty, I would be less hostile to the law (if only marginally) if there were some indication that this was a good faith effort to make headway against Arizona’s growing population of undocumented immigrants. But that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Not only was the bill sponsored by an Arizona legislator with noted ties to white supremacists organizations, but the Arizona legislature has followed up SB 1070 with a bill aimed at outlawing “ethnic-studies programs” in public schools:

Just a week after signing the country’s toughest immigration bill into law, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer now must decide whether to endorse another bill passed by her state legislature — one that outlaws ethnic-studies programs in public schools.

The bill forbids Arizona schools from using any curriculum that promotes “the overthrow of the United States government” or “resentment toward a race or class of people.” It also disallows any curriculum that’s “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” or that seeks to “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

On top of this, the Arizona Department of Education has “has begun telling principals to remove teachers who speak English with an accent from classes with students who are still learning English.” In light of this new bill, it seems absurd to suggest that SB 1070 isn’t about race and racism. There are ways to curb illegal immigration that don’t require blanket racial profiling and citizenship stops. There are ways to improve English instruction that don’t involve expelling teachers with accented English (the majority of whom, in all likelihood, will be of Latino descent).

Taken together, these bills are a clear sign that Arizona is governed by men and women who seek to whitewash their state as much as possible. I’d be willing to listen to an alternative explanation, but I honestly don’t see how that could be any more apparent.

Jamelle Bouie

Jamelle Bouie