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A Parallel: Immigration Law

May 11, 2010

Shakira supposedly opposes the new law.

In the midst of the Oakland Ebonics controversy, many commentators across the country made their feelings known about associations between African American English and street life. Jokes about AAE being crude and foolish, while ignorant, proved popular. Those who knew better cringed at American society’s apparent flippancy in regarding African Americans’ relationship with the education system.

But now a new event has raised disturbing suggestions about another racial group’s status: Arizona’s new immigration law. Ostensibly, the statute empowers law enforcement officials to combat illegal immigration. The consequences of how this new power will be applied has been cause for debate. Opponents of the law claim that it gives police the ability to harass individuals according on racial profiling. Supporters counter that the law does nothing to distort previously ratified statutes outlawing such discrimination. While it is not yet clear how life in Arizona will change as a result of the bill’s passing, opinions have already motivated fierce words and protests.

This issue ought to interest defenders of AAE. In the past, those fighting for dialectical sensitivity in education guidelines have looked longingly on the popular support for similar guidelines regarding speakers of foreign languages. It seemed that the U.S. felt comfortable welcoming Spanish speakers into the education system while speakers of African American English had to fight for recognition. Think, then, what this new controversy says about those supposedly welcome Spanish speakers. Just as the Oakland resolution debate exposed a widespread distaste for African American culture, so it seems this debate exposes a certain intolerance for Hispanic people.

Those who designed and passed the immigration bill seem much too eager to fulfill public desire.

It is generally understood that United States possesses no policy mandating citizens to carry proof of their citizenship. If Arizona legislators wanted to introduce such a policy, then that would be another issue. Instead, they have made a law allowing for searches of immigrants for papers. If a police officer were to ask an individual for their papers and that person could produce nothing, then how would that officer know whether that individual was a citizen or an illegal immigrant? The law seems practically designed to encourage racial discrimination as a tool of police work. The governor herself has said she doesn’t know how a policeman would identify a possible illegal immigrant.

Perhaps even more discomforting is the law’s provision for citizens to sue their local police departments if they feel those officers aren’t pursuing illegal immigration arrests aggressively enough. Those who designed and passed this bill seem much too eager to fulfill public desire. If such attitudes in lawmaking were to grow prevalent in the coming years, the results may be unfortunate. Imagine if opponents of dialectical sensitivity in school curriculums could rightfully sue their school boards being too soft on speakers of African American English. Legislators would do well to ignore the public taste for blood and endorse policy focused on fact.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ayeska permalink*
    May 11, 2010 5:20 pm

    Wow, I didn’t even think to associate the new AZ law with African American English, but you bring up a good point! It is the same type of hatred towards indifference that plagued the Oakland Resolution case and ultimately denied many African American children of a much needed opportunity.

    It’s disturbing how much public opinion heavily distorted by media, has controlled the politics of America.

  2. Louisa permalink
    May 13, 2010 1:20 pm

    This post made me think about a conversation I had a few days ago. I was speaking to someone about AAE and it’s role in education and how teachers understandin of AAE can greatly benefit students. His response was they have to “assimilate” I was so frustrated because the use of this word towards americans who have been here as long as he has if not longer was closed minded and innapropriate. I am still so upset that I had a conversation like this with someone I know!

  3. Chris W permalink
    July 6, 2010 12:24 am

    The last sentence of your post (“Legislators would do well to ignore the public taste for blood and endorse policy focused on fact.”) is very interesting. Whereas it shows policy makers catering to a broad public ignorance, the Oakland controversy was almost diametrically opposite in how it was presented and argued against. Specifically, the Oakland resolution was largely drawing upon actual scholarly research, albeit poorly (or not at all) referenced within the resolution itself initially. The failure to make these references known to the media and general public was certainly a major contributor in the outrage.

    Conversely, this new immigration law in Arizona caters to the public ignorance and media frenzy. Again, it appears to have very little in the way of a defense from theoretical or even applied works which would indicate that this approach will produce “meaningful” results (read: finding and dealing with ‘illegal’ immigrants). As the article mentions, there is no requirement that an American citizen need carry proof of citizenship. So, this creates a situation where a detained person may be assumed as an ‘illegal immigrant’ and is not even allowed suitable means to obtain such records for the police/court.

    Taking this a step further, the parallel between Chicano English (and its many variants throughout the south-western states) as a dialect of standard American English highlights many similarities to African American English (and all of its many variants as well). For example, during the Oakland controversy, many unfounded, yet outspoken, persons and organizations made assumptions about not only the resolution itself, but also of speakers of the dialect. In this case, a similar occurrence arises, because those individuals involved in law enforcement and the court system may very possibly assume incorrectly that an American citizen, born and raised, is an immigrant, because that person has a strong Chicano English dialect with limited ability to style switch to standard American English. This would then lead the law enforcement individual to assume the person to be an immigrant simply because he/she “sounds different” and cannot produce proof of citizenship at the time of questioning/arrest.

    I look forward to seeing how the lawsuit that the Obama administration is bringing against Arizona will play out. Unfortunately, it will not happen quickly, but it should have some sweeping consequences as far as profiling is concerned….hopefully for the best!

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