Touring America's heartland through the headlines

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Image by zaui via Flickr

Third in an occasional series

Arizona seemed a lot less contentious then.

When Kathy and I first dipped into the state’s northeast corner in the summer of 1974, the only menaces I worried about were black widow spiders and heat stroke,  not jack-booted state troopers who might mistake me for an illegal immigrant and haul me away because of my deep  tan.

Back then, we hiked in the splendor of Canyon de Chelly, past horses and sheep and Navajo hogans.  It was one of the most peaceful and spiritual places I’ve ever been, a far cry from the bumper-to-bumper amusement park atmosphere that is the south rim of the Grand Canyon in summer.

We vowed to go back but never did. And now I don’t believe I can, not with the draconian law passed by the state’s legislators and signed by the Republican governor.

Linda Greenhouse got it right in The New York Times this week when she wrote: I’m glad I’ve already seen the Grand Canyon. Because I’m not going back to Arizona as long as it remains a police state, which is what the appalling anti-immigrant bill that Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law last week has turned it into.

You’ve undoubtedly read about the law by now, the one that will take effect in late July or early August and in essence requires police to stop anyone they suspect might be in the state illegally. The one that requires immigrants to carry immigration papers and allows police to arrest and detain them on mere suspicion if they’re not. The one that seems an open invitation to racial profiling and abuse, but is supported by a sizable majority of the state’s population, frustrated by the influx of illegal immigrants and the failure of the federal government to control it.

But even if I can’t set foot in Arizona right now — actually, it’s a matter of principle, not fear — I can troll the headlines of its newspapers, including those down south, where a rancher was shot and killed and where anger at immigrants sneaking over the border has grown to such a fever pitch that the state appears willing to throw out the Constitution as well as set the stage for driving out many of its legal as well as illegal immigrants.

Even from my perch in Boston, I can tell this law is fracturing the state.  One of Kathy’s best friends from college lives in Phoenix with her family and, after decades there, is wondering out loud how long it can stay.  Thousands of protesters have marched. An Arizona Democratic representative, along with plenty of other people, is called for business groups to boycott the convention centers and hotels of his own state. And, in Mexico City, taxi cab drivers have painted on their cabs that,  “We don’t give taxi service to gringos from Arizona,” Reuters reports.  This weekend, the anger will spill throughout the country in a series of protests planned to push loudly for national immigration reform.

So what are the people and editorial writers of Arizona  saying?  I thought I’d head south first toward ground zero along the border. I stopped in at the Yuma Sun, in the southwest corner, where I was expecting some full-throated defense of the new law. What do I know.  Instead I found news of a student protest against the law.  On the opinion pages,  Terry Ross, the director of the Yma Sun’s “News and Information Center,” had this to say:

There seems to be a determined effort in Arizona to demonize illegal immigrants and characterize them as murderers, drug dealers, rapists and child molesters – which is far from the reality.

Even Gov. Jan Brewer did this in a speech Thursday about her plans to put the National Guard on the Arizona border with Mexico. She criticized the federal government for failing to crack down on illegal immigration and said the Obama administration had turned “a blind eye to the issues that Arizona is being overrun by illegal immigration, terrorizing the citizens.”

Terrorizing us? Get real.

So who, besides the governor is defending this new law?  I decided to head northeast to the big city of Phoenix, home of retirees, golf clubs, polyester pants and white shoes.  Surely this would be a place of Republican fervor — or is that all just a cruel stereotype?  The door to the web site of the Arizona Republic was open so I walked in uninvited (At 2:48 p.m., it was 89 degrees outside so I needed some shade).  At the top of homepage was this headline: “Arizona immigration law could drive Latinos out of state.”

Those here legally as well as illegally, it turns out.

I was starting to feel desperate. Who is supporting this new law anyway? Where can I find the bad guys?  On the Opinion Pages, I found a letter by one Margaret Mullen. Here’s what she said:

First, I am a lifelong Republican but one who has always supported the best candidates and policies, not one who thinks one party or the other is always right.

Second, I’ve been in Arizona for 30 years – working in some form of economic development most of that time.

It is time we, and by we, I mean all Arizonans, demand that our congressional delegation work together and get comprehensive  immigration reform adopted now – not after the next election – but now.

That means securing the borders, dealing with those in this country illegally, visa reform, a guest-worker program, the entire package.

If we are going to be ground zero for the problem and become the laughingstock of the nation, we ought to show the country what Arizonans are really made of and demand our delegation do what we elected them to do!

Gosh. Sounds pretty darn reasonable to me. I’m starting to think this really awful law could have good consequences if it jump starts the Congress on yet another issue about which it’s been dithering for decades.

I hope so. I’d sure like to see Canyon de Chelly again.

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About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at www.jerrylanson.com. My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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