Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Arizona, Immigration and Historical Amnesia


The elderly white man sat across the booth from his wife in the chicken joint where I was eating too. They were discussing the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to rescind elements of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 law.

“So you see,” he told her, “I think it’s a terrible shame that Obama’s getting rid of this Arizona law. Why won’t they let the police just do their job?”

His wife nodded her head. I paused mid-bite and looked up over my chicken sandwich. I could sense a xenophobic rant brewing, could smell it like the cheap coffee that was brewing behind the counter. I felt my appetite slowly drain out of me. Other customers pretended not to hear the man.  

He continued, his face growing noticeably redder. “It’s like, if an officer stops someone and tells them, ‘I need to see your license and registration’, and the person just sits there and goes, ‘uh, no comprendo, no comprendo,’ then the officer knows he’s got a problem on his hands.”

As the elderly customer repeated the Spanish phrase—which he pronounced more like, “noah cum-prenn-doe”—he waved his hands in cartoonish fashion and raised his eyebrows comically. The man’s wife giggled at his impersonation, fiddling with her box of chicken nuggets.

“I mean, if they can’t speak English,” he continued, “they have no business being in this country. So if a police officer is trying to talk to the person, and they just keep saying, ‘noah cum-prenn-doe’, well then you know they’re not supposed to be here. It’s time to call up I.C.E. and have them come deport the person. What’s so complicated about that?”

I leaned back against the hard plastic seat and looked up at the ceiling. I considered saying something. But where to start?

I wasn’t surprised that he seemed ignorant of the details of the Supreme Court’s decision. After all, while they did shoot down three of the law’s provisions, they upheld the most controversial one—the “show me your papers” clause, which allows police to stop “suspected immigrants” [read: Latinos] and demand their documents. The clause which makes Latinos in Arizona, de facto, “guilty until proven innocent” of being undocumented immigrants. Even though Latino U.S. citizens greatly outnumber undocumented immigrants in Arizona, and many of the state’s Latino families have lived there for several generations. 

But it didn’t surprise me that the man would take a “glass-is-half-empty” approach to the Supreme Court’s ruling. After all, I would venture to guess that even if the “Arizona Law” had been upheld in its entirety, not even that would be enough to make the old fellow happy.

I wasn’t surprised, either, by his comment about the “police not being able to do their job”—that he was ignorant of what the police’s job is in the first place. Many people, after all, seem to assume that the police are supposed to act as immigration agents—but this isn’t the case. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is a completely different government agency from the police. I.C.E. prosecutes violations of immigration law (a civil, not criminal, offense); the municipal, state and federal police prosecute violations of criminal law.

This is the way law enforcement works in any nation on earth. Nobody is trying to keep the police from doing their job. In fact, in areas like Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County where police have been pushed into enforcing immigration law, the rates of rape, murder and other violent crimes have gone up—precisely because the police aren’t able to do their job as effectively. It is not the police’s job to check people’s immigration status in the first place—any more than it is their job to put out fires, deliver people’s mail, process tax returns, or make Social Security payments to people like the elderly man at the chicken sandwich joint.

But it didn’t surprise me that this man was ignorant of the way his government works.

What surprised me was that he was so ignorant of himself. Of his own roots. Of the roots of all Americans of European descent. Being a white American myself, I was surprised that this man seemed completely unaware of where his own ancestors came from. The fact is, nearly all first generation immigrants have come here knowing little to no English. Just like my own great-grandparents who gave me the Schmidt name, this man’s ancestors likely didn’t know English when they came here. If a police officer had stopped them, they would have responded with some other version of “no comprendo”:

“Ich kann nicht verstehen.”
“Ní thuigim.”
“Я не понимаю.”
Nie rozumiem.”
“Ikh farshtey nisht.”

To equate ignorance of English with undocumented status is ludicrous. It makes little sense, if you really are speaking in terms of “legal versus illegal immigration”.

But it makes much more sense if you’re speaking in terms of what demographics, what sorts of people, you believe “have no business being here”.

I’m sure the man at the chicken sandwich joint would have insisted, if I’d asked him, that he “was only against illegal immigration”. But his own words betrayed him. Through the comments he made, he stepped in line with past generations of xenophobes and immigrant bashers throughout American history. The sort of “native born” folk who, in centuries past, would have overheard his ancestors speaking a European language and said:

“They have no business being here.”
“This country’s not for people like them.”
“This is an invasion.”

As I heard the man rail against today’s immigrants, I also lamented my own ignorance of my great-grandparents’ lives. I regretted having never had the chance to meet them as an adult and talk with them about their own immigrant experience. Had they ever had a negative encounter with an “English only” American? I doubt it—after all, they spent most of their lives in an ethnic enclave, living among other German-speaking folks from Russia. By the time my grandfather and his siblings were grown, they had learned English in the public school system. (This puts the Schmidts well behind the curve, in comparison with today’s immigrants. Modern-day immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere are learning English at rates much faster than past generations.)

I had finally geared up to say something to the man—but someone else beat me to it. As I started to rise from my seat, a young customer had already approached the elderly man. “Listen, sir,” he told the nativist. “If you don’t want to sympathize with people who come from a different background, if you want to look down on them because they weren’t born here like you, that’s your problem. But keep your voice down. I don’t need to hear your intolerant rant while I’m eating. Nobody should have to.”

Short. Precise. To the point.

The old man sheepishly looked down at his waffle fries.

I thanked this young interloper for speaking up, and told the old man, “He’s absolutely right. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

* * * *

I don’t think either of us changed the xenophobe’s opinion. If anything, he probably became more entrenched in his views. As he and his wife left, murmuring under his breath, he was likely complaining to her about how “intolerant” today’s young people are, because we don’t tolerate intolerance.

I don’t think we made him think about his roots, or his own European ancestors, or the mistreatment that some of them doubtless suffered. I don’t think he pondered the fact that past generations of Americans probably thought some of his ancestors “had no business being here” because of their language and customs.

But that’s not why you speak up in a Chic-Fil-A when someone is going on a “noah-cum-prenn-doe” rant. You speak up because this is the present day. You speak up because now, in the 21st century, this should not be a nation where someone is intimidated and treated like a lesser person because of how they look and talk. You speak up because that’s not the kind of country we want to live in.

And you speak up—I spoke up—because while I may be powerless to keep police from racially profiling someone in Arizona, I can at least stop one man from publicly mocking people of another culture.

It’s a start. 

David Schmidt is a freelance writer and multi-lingual translator in San Diego, CA. He is a volunteer at World Relief Garden Grove, proponent of immigrants' rights and fair trade, and works with worker-owned coops in Mexico to help them develop alternative, fair sources of income. He can be contacted at

We append the following disclaimer on all posts: “Please note that the views expressed by guest bloggers represent their own personal views, and not necessarily those of everyone associated with Loving the Stranger or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.”

Monday, June 25, 2012

Update on Latest National Immigration News

From Wendy at CLUE-OC:

Over the last couple of weeks, there has been quite a bit of movement around Immigration in our nation. Here is a brief timeline of the major events:

Tuesday, June 5th: DREAM Students began occupying President Obama's campaign offices in key states asking the President to offer Administrative Relief to the thousands of youth known as "DREAMers" Read More

-Tuesday, June 12th: Over 150 prominent Evangelical leaders release a Statement of Principals for Immigration Reform. Some key leaders of this statement held a high powered press conference in Washington DC with all major news media outlets covering the story. Read More 

-Thursday, June 14th: Time Magazine releases the cover of it's latest issue featuring 36 Undocumented Immigrants stating, "We are Americans, Just not legally." (On stands June 25th) Read More

-Friday, June 15th: President Obama announces a new memorandum, effective Immediately, offering deferred action against deportations and the opportunity for work authorization for DREAM eligible young people meeting a list of specific qualifications. Read More 

-Monday, June 25th: 
This morning, the Supreme Court handed down a 5-3 decision striking down three key provisions of Arizona's SB 1070 law. They upheld, but limited, the scope the law's "show me your papers" provision requiring law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of anyone they have "reasonable suspicion" to believe is in the country illegally. Read More 

Federal Officials also said Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be selective in responding to the expected increase in calls from Arizona and other police agencies about immigration status of people they pull over. Officials said ICE will not respond to the scene unless the person in question meets certain criteria -- such as being wanted for a felony. Read More

President Obama Regarding Arizona's SB 1070
President Obama Regarding Arizona's SB 1070

Important Information for DREAMers
We are eager and excited to see how Obama's policy will tangibly impact the lives of young DREAMers from across the nation. We also know that with big news like this, a lot of misleading information and confusion is easily spread. So in an effort to share the latest and most accurate information, we have provided a breakdown for your convenience.

Important terms and definitions:
Deferred Action - basically a postponement and protection against deportation
Work Authorization - essentially, a piece of paper that allows you to work legally in this country
Removal Proceedings - The process of being deported
NTA - Notice to Appear, basically a demand to appear in front of an Immigration judge to determine your status in the country
USCIS - United States Citizenship and Immigration services, they process all requests for visas and Immigrant benefits
ICE - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they enforce Immigration law

President Obama Speaks on Department of Homeland Security Immigration Announcement
President Obama Speaks on Department of Homeland Security Immigration Announcement

All of the following Criteria must be met to qualify for Obama's new protection:

1. Individual must have come to the United States under the age of sixteen
2. Individual must have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years preceding June 15, 2012 and are present in the United States on June 15, 2012
3. Individual must currently be in shcool, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharge veterans of the Coast Guard of Armed Forces of the United States
4. Individual must have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety
5. Individual must not be above the age of thirty

What it isn't:
-Amnesty, a path to Legal Permanent Residency or Citizenship
-The Dream Act
-A change in the Law
-Comprehensive Immigration Reform
-An Executive Order

What it is:
-Protection for a vulnerable and important group within our country from deportation
-A way for many eligible and deserving youth to come out of the shadows, continue their education, and contribute to the economy more fully by allowing them to work legally without the threat of deportation
-Prosecutorial Discretion, basically changing the way the Law is enforced, which is within the authority of the President

What we know:
-This memo will be implemented within 60 days of when it was announced, so sometime around August 16th
-Those in removal proceedings or with a final order to be removed who qualify, should request deferred action with ICE immediately
-Those NOT in removal proceedings who believe they qualify SHOULD NOT turn themselves into ICE, but rather wait for USCIS to release the implementation plan and apply directly with them once the application process is available
-Those who believe they qualify should begin gathering documentation proving they meet the criteria listed above
-Applying for Deferred Action and Work Authorization will not trigger an Immigration investigation into the applicants relatives
-Those who apply and are denied will be given an NTA, but not necessarily be placed directly in removal proceedings

What we still don't know:
-How those who qualify will apply
-The intricacies of the exact meaning of each of the qualifications
-If those who receive this form of temporary relief will be able to travel outside of the country
-What would happen to this policy if a new president were to be elected to office.

We append the following disclaimer on all posts: “Please note that the views expressed by guest bloggers represent their own personal views, and not necessarily those of everyone associated with Loving the Stranger or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.”

Monday, June 11, 2012

Evangelicals Unite On Principles for Immigration Reform at Capitol Hill Press Conference

Several years ago, World Relief joined with other evangelical organizations in order to multiply our efforts to educate and mobilize the evangelical community for immigration reform.  This effort, known as the Evangelical Immigration Table, has been working to gather some of the country’s most recognized evangelical leaders to support immigration reform.

Tomorrow, the Table will be releasing a statement to call on Democrats and Republicans to lead our nation to a bipartisan solution for immigrants in America.  This “Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform” has been signed by over 140 high-level evangelical leaders, many of whom are speaking out for the first time in support of immigration reform.  Signatories include bestselling Christian authors, denominational executives from almost every major evangelical denomination, presidents of Christian colleges and seminaries, and pastors of large and influential churches throughout the country.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at 11:30am, you will be able to see the list of signatories on and watch live on the website the press conference in Washington, DC releasing the statement.

More information and a live feed of the news conference on Tuesday, 9:30 am PDT here

**This information is from World Relief's Director of Advocacy and Policy, Jenny Yang.

We append the following disclaimer on all posts: “Please note that the views expressed by guest bloggers represent their own personal views, and not necessarily those of everyone associated with Loving the Stranger or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.”