Thursday, April 29, 2010

Show Me Your Papers: The Ability To Harass Workers At Will

Arizona's new immigration law requires immigrants to carry papers verifying their immigration status and allows police to stop and question a person if the police have a "reasonable suspicion" the person is in the country illegally. In practice, this will probably mean that police are given a green light stop and question any poor or working-class Latino they choose.

Others have pointed out that this makes Arizona a "show me your papers" state, with an eerie similarity to every movie about Nazi Germany you've ever seen.

To me, it harks back to the old vagrancy laws of the Depression Era. Corporate farms put out calls for migrant labor, and essentially every worker who came could be arrested simply for being poor and on the move. But since the big farms depended on the cheap migrant labor, the laws were applied selectively. Any worker that spoke up for a raise or for better conditions in the fields or, God forbid, organized with other workers for the same would probably be arrested for vagrancy.

So the cops and the corporate and political elite that controlled them claimed for themselves sweeping powers to harass working people whenever it suited them. An added bonus in this conservative feedback loop was that the laws implicitly made an entire class of workers, the migrants, seem like the enemy of another class of workers, the natives.

Wait, are we describing the American West in the 1930s or Arizona in 2010? If you're like me, you've lost track.


What Blue Dot? said...

I have Nazi-occupied Polish papers in my house.

This isn't a fun game.

Paul J. said...

When are you liberals going to get it?

The Nazis were asking for papers because they were looking for Jews to kill.

The people in Arizona are asking people for papers to see if they are breaking the law, and in the country illegally.

People are getting tired of the constant "You're a racist" "You're a nazi" comparisons you lefties pull out every time something happens you don't like. It shows you to be nothing but completely irrational, and completely blind to history and what real oppression is.

Dave said...

Paul, this post compared the recent immigration law with past vagrancy laws, not with Nazism. (But you must admit that you've probably heard "Show me your papers" in every single movie about Nazi-occupied Europe that you've ever seen.)

No one here is within a thousand miles of saying that Arizona's government wants to round up Latinos and kill them. But Arizona is abso-freaking-lutely taking a step closer toward a police state where the cops can stop and question anyone they choose whenever they like. My point is that we've seen this type of thing before with the vagrancy laws, which gave cops the power to harass and arrest virtually any migrant worker.

I'm kinda wondering why you zeroed in on the one sentence with the word "Nazi" in it (which linked to Saturday Night Live, for Pete's sake), ignored the rest of the post, and then went on to talk about lefties being blind to history.

Sara said...

It's not a good plan when you start treating folks like a whole other class of people because of the way they look or speak. Produce a line up of Latino people and then try to judge "US Citizen" or "illegal," what do you think your accuracy is gonna be?

Paul, how do you propose preventing widespread harassment and discrimination under this law? Or is that the lesser of two evils for you?
I don't have a problem with efforts to get folks to go through the proper process of becoming a citizen or working here legally, and I'm not some great political mind, but this is a dangerously slippery slope IMO. Not a good method.

Anonymous said...

It seems that there are always people who are willing to give up their own personal freedoms so that 'justice' can be done.
Thank you for the post, Dave.