NAHREP Members: You don’t want Arizona’s climate of hate in your town!General Posts
by Gail Buck
For anyone who lives outside Arizona, the state’s controversial immigration law is probably just a current event that gets debated over drinks with friends. Unless you’ve been subjected to prejudice for who you are, this is a subject that’s easy to dismiss with all the other bad things that are happening in the world today.
It’s a different story for Latinos living in Arizona, however. Long before Governor Brewer signed the immigration law, the air of fear and bigotry toward Latinos existed. The now infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his posse of vigilantes have seen to that. The culture of prejudice these people have created here is something you don’t ever want to experience in your hometown. Trust me on this. The new law has only emboldened them and licensed their actions. Any dark skinned person here is fair game.
I’m Mexican. I speak Spanish fluently but have no accent. But I’m fair skinned with red hair. At first glance, no one will peg me for a Latino. So the chances are slim that I’ll get pulled over on suspicion for how I look. That’s not the case, however, for people who work in my office. Estevan Medina, who works at my Phoenix office, is a recent graduate from Arizona State University. He is a trained architect who can’t get work in this lousy economy. His loss, my gain. I’m delighted to have access to his talents. But Estevan’s brush with Sheriff Joe’s posse is a reminder what this law will create.
Estevan is dark skinned and a native of Mexico. He is bilingual and a proud U.S. citizen. The Sheriff’s posse pulled over Estevan and his college buddies one night. They handcuffed them with zip ties and shackled their feet. They bound them like criminals first; then they asked questions later. Estevan was humiliated. This practice and the discriminating way it is used to intimidate Latinos sends a loud, clear message to the Hispanic community: We don’t like your kind. Surely this experience will be an indignity Estevan will remember his whole life.
Latinos around here live in fear. You can feel the tension in the air. They don’t like the hostile climate and don’t want their children to grow up in this environment. Can you blame them? Many of them are leaving the state and moving to Colorado, returning home to Mexico or considering a move to other neighboring states.
Their exodus is causing a chain reaction and leading to losses for local businesses that rely on their consumer purchases. The housing market is no exception. Arizona is one of the leading foreclosure states in the nation. We have more empty housing than we can fill. We don’t need more problems that make properties harder to sell. At my office, we’ve had deals fall through at the last minute because investors were concerned about the hostile climate and the challenge with getting future renters or buyers.
Many undocumented immigrants here bought homes over the years, using an ITIN number or a fake social security number — back before Homeland Security began tracking such things. Right or wrong, these people are invested in our community. They pay taxes. They’re hard working. They’re current on their mortgages. But many are walking away from their equity out of fear of deportation.
I volunteer as a mentor at a local charter school and work with some special kids, many of whom are Latino. The stories that don’t make it to the news headlines are the heart-wrenching accounts of what happens to these kids when their parents are picked up and deported. Families are separated. The kids are left to fend for themselves in an unfriendly environment. They become orphans. Most of them are English-speaking, American-born citizens.
Misguided politicians make sensational claims that all undocumented workers are drug mules and criminals. They are fueling a culture of hate with untrue statements like these. My experience of the immigrants who come to this country is that they are hard working, family-focused people who are in search of economic opportunity. Some of them work seven days a week and juggle multiple jobs to provide for their families. They are not criminals.
I don’t have the answers that will fix this complex problem. What I do know is that we cannot lose our sense of humanity in our haste to fix a broken system. No matter where you stand on this issue, I can say with certainty that living in an atmosphere of hate is something you DON’T want to experience. If you live in one of the 20 states considering legislation like Arizona’s, it’s time to wake up and get involved. As a community, we can’t let this happen to other neighborhoods.
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