When I was a kid there was what we used to call white lies. You distinguished them from lies that were untrue. You told white lies because you did not want to reveal a secret or hurt someone’s feelings. Children would easily get caught telling lies – we were not too good at it. However, we got better as we marched into adulthood often believing our own lies.
I guess I never grew up, a lie remained a lie. When I started to write commentaries in the 1980s this got me into trouble with many of my politico friends. They told me that what they said were not lies but political judgments. The first rule in politics, they said, was to get re-elected.
In L.A., I began to lose friends not only because I had to tell it like I saw it, but because as a writer and historian if I got caught in a lie, my moral authority suffered and this undermined the purpose for writing. At first it was easy because I concentrated in exposing the injustices in the system. But as Mexican Americans and Latinos became part of the system I found myself criticizing my friends.
The issues that caused me the most anguish were police brutality, education and Latino politicians taking large sums of campaign funds from the likes of Downtown Real Estate Attorney Richard Riordan and developer Eli Broad. When I criticized them mutual friends would say that they were making “political judgments” and that to be successful and remain players that they had to make these sorts of compromises.
I could not live with the contradictions so I distanced myself — unwilling to make a complete break because there were issues where they got it right and benefited the community.
I literally got sucked into the controversies in Arizona. I have been interested in the abuse of immigrants there since the 1970s with the Hanigan Case where a well-connected rancher and owner of a Dairy Queen and his two sons tortured three undocumented Mexican workers. It infuriated me that the state court would not convict them.
My interest peaked in the 1980s with the sanctuary movement and the trial of my friend and poet Demetria Martínez for transporting two Salvadoran undocumented workers. Demetria was acquitted but a 25-year sentence hung over her head and that bothered me.
The persecution of undocumented workers picked up in the late 1990s as the government closed the corridors carrying drugs and poor Latin Americans into the United States from Baja California and points south. The tactic was inhumane, forcing immigrants to travel through the badlands of Southern Arizona, which was dominated by right wing ranchers who would hunt down the Mexican workers and their families.
What they could not “roundup,” the boiling sun would kill. To date way over a thousand Mexicans and Latin Americans have died on the hot sands of southern Arizona—a thousand fold more than died trying to get across the Berlin Wall.
SB 1070 was passed in 2010. It brought an immediate reaction both inside and outside Arizona. A boycott was called, which quickly dissipated. For a time, unions and progressives outside of Arizona held rallies in Phoenix. However, Arizona’s anti-racist campaign was quickly eclipsed as struggles in Wisconsin and Ohio took center stage. Not wanting to offend local contributors the Democratic Party turned the other way and allowed Blue Dogs and others to make their arrangements as political judgments dictated their choices.
A few progressive writers uncovered the motivations behind 1070 for which many people claim credit. Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach who considers his anti-immigrant crusade a substitute for military service was one of the hooded authors. Most claim that the impeached Senator Russell Pearce was the author of 1070, which was signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) in April 2010.
Meanwhile, other than the legal strategy – from my perspective – much of the outrage over the law leaked from the punctured balloon. More and more political judgments were made. Politicians of all stripes hardly mentioned that Pearce was only a bagman. The mainstream media forgot that the authors of the bill were the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA),and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC); they drafted SB1070 “to protect the profitability of private prisons funded with taxpayer dollars.”
Special interests made a killing on the hate Mexican campaign. Hate was and is profitable.
As an early blogger commented “SB1070 cannot be separated from its drafters, whose sole mission is to craft profitable legislation. The purpose of a state criminal designation for undocumented people is the diversion of immigrants into for-profit prisons and a tax-subsidized holding period before federal immigration proceedings can proceed. Not only was the law never about Arizona, it wasn’t even written by or for Arizonans.”
ALEC must be remembered controls at least 50 Republicans in the Arizona State Legislature and has ties with elites throughout the country and state including the Southern Arizona Leadership Council. Its drive to privatize Arizona was made possible by a culture of fear.
HB 2281 was passed shortly after SB 1070; from the beginning from the beginning it has been eclipsed by the latter. Unfortunately most if not all politicians make political judgments, which are not necessarily made to improve society. In the case of education they are certainly not based on sound pedagogical considerations.