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How is 2011 faring so far? Ethnic studies and the 14th amendment

At this moment it is very hard to focus on anything but the tragic incident that marked the beginning of this year when a man in Tucson, Arizona opened fire on a public meeting killing 6 people and gravely injuring 14 others last Saturday. While this tragedy cannot be undone, there are a number of issues around which we can hope for some positive developments in 2011.

In Arizona, the first week of 2011 saw all classes in the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American ethnic studies program being declared illegal by the State of Arizona, in accordance with a state law came into effect on January 1st. Tom Horne, Arizona’s newly elected Attorney General, declared the program illegal on account of it allegedly teaching Latino students that are being mistreated, and encouraging the students to become activists for their race. In the capacity of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Horne had written the law challenging the ethnic studies program last year. The bill, HB 2291, was passed by the State Legislature in April and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer in May of 2010. Defending his latest action deeming that the Tucson district’s Mexican-American program was not in compliance with state standards, (while allowing similar programs for black, Asian and Native America students to continue) Horne said that “They teach kids that they are oppressed, that the United States is dominated by a white, racist, imperialist power structure that wants to oppress them.” Under the law, Tucson would stand to lose 10 percent of its state education funds if the classes are not discontinued, amounts to nearly $15 million.

According to Augustine F. Romero, director of student equity in Tucson schools, the debate over the ethnic studies program demonstrates the strong anti-Latino sentiment in the state, and highlights the pressing need for such programs to continue to exist, giving the students a chance to be proud of their heritage. Mr. Romero posed the question in an interview with the New York Times-

Who are the true Americans here — those embracing our inalienable rights or those trying to diminish them?

In an even deeper affront to inalienable American values, on January 5th, a coalition of legislators from over 14 states announced a plan to join together in a state compact and deny citizenship rights to the children of undocumented immigrants. The compact, clearly motivated by anti-immigrant feeling, is designed to challenge the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution which states that those born in the United States will be considered U.S. citizens, irrespective of race, class or creed. This was closely matched by Rep. Steve King’s introduction of legislation H.R. 140 before the new session of Congress, aimed to take away the citizenship of children born in the U.S. to parents who were undocumented.

The state compact is being led by Senator Russell Pearce of Arizona, the state Senator best known for introducing the controversial and harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070 in 2010. The legislators that introduced the plan unveiled a plan that seeks to take birthright citizenship, which is a Federal issue, into state hands by establishing state citizenship laws that deny citizenship rights to those born to parents who are undocumented, and then developing a compact between the various states by which the laws are upheld in all those states. The group claims that their model state legislation aims to halt the “misapplication of the 14th amendment,” which they say is sapping taxpayers funds and attracting further immigration to the U.S. Ultimately, the goal of the coordinated state-level strategy is to force the Supreme Court to take up the issue.

The plan is a joint effort of anti-immigration legislators like Russell Pearce and Kansas Secretary of State-elect Kris Kobach, and State Legislators for Legal Immigration, an anti-immigration group of lawmakers which had representatives from Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah. Senator Pearce told the Washington Times-

I’m not stopping until the problem is solved, and clearly the problem is not solved. The cost is destroying this country, and it can no longer be ignored…The 14th Amendment was never intended to be applied to illegal aliens. They [the sponsors] specifically said it didn’t apply to foreigners or aliens. That amendment belongs to the African-Americans of this country. It’s their amendment.

Critics are suggesting that in fact, the proposal is completely unconstitutional and deliberately misunderstands the 14th amendment. By suggesting a two-tiered system of citizenship by which those who are born to parents who are undocumented receive different birth certificates than those who are born in the U.S. to parents who are legal residents, the compact goes against the fundamental values of the constitution. Elizabeth Wydra, writing for Politico, sums it up clearly-

The 14th Amendment, which was drafted and ratified against a backdrop of prejudice against newly freed slaves and various immigrant communities, was added to the Constitution to place the question of who should be a citizen beyond the politics and prejudices of the day. The big idea behind the 14th Amendment is that all people are born equal, and, if born in the United States, are born equal citizens — regardless of color, creed or social status. It is no exaggeration to say that the 14th Amendment is the constitutional embodiment of the Declaration of Independence and lays the foundation for the American Dream. Because of the 14th Amendment, all American citizens are equal and equally American. Whether one’s parents were rich or poor, saint or sinner, an American child will be judged by his or her own deeds.

As long as the Federal government avoids enacting a comprehensive reform of the existing immigration system and dealing with an issue that is in their jurisdiction, restrictionists will continue to introduce laws that threaten the fabric of the United States. At the start of this year, as we hope that Rep. Giffords recovers her health, we must recall the values of equality, dignity and respect that are intrinsic to the strength of this country and remember that when we deny human rights to some, we jeopardize the rights of all.

Photo courtesy of colorlines.com

POLL: Does the SLLI challenge of birthright citizenship go against the fabric of the country?

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Oh Arizona! Jokes aside, how many racist laws can we deal with?

The British band Massive Attack played in New York City last night, and while their entire performance was framed by high-tech LCD projections against war, racism, corporate monopolies and violations of civil rights around the world, the specific moment at which the audience erupted in cheers was when the visuals denounced the harsh new law targeting immigrants in Arizona. In addition to inspiring creative forms of old-school activism, it looks like Arizona’s giant fiasco around the highly controversial and potentially racist anti-immigrant law, SB1070, has inspired some interesting (and appropriately ridiculous) humor. In the name of satire, the ACLU has launched a glorious new website called “The Deprofiler” which offers free “white people” masks that promise to protect against the threat of “reasonable suspicion” that Arizona’s new law places on people that are not white, and especially on the Latinos that account for 30% of Arizona’s population. Their pitch reads-

Being Brown was never easy. But now, due to SB1070, it can get you thrown in jail. Deprofiler.com allows you to print a mask of a friendly white person’s face to wear while you’re in Arizona. Now you can bask in the freedom and confidence of knowing you’ll never be harassed by the police. Get yours.

So if you’re worried, just select the mask of your choosing (they offer a selection of “whites”), print out a pdf, cut to holes in it for eyes, attach a piece of string, and you’re ready to go. Their sharing tools urge you to help keep a friend out of jail so “help a friend be white today!” Hysterical as it is, it’s more than just laughs; the final step asks users to take action and learn more about the issue by going to the Reform Immigration for America website.

A group of filmmakers who are concerned about the backward turn that lawmakers are taking when it comes to making informed decisions that respect the values of freedom and equality that this country stands for, created this PSA ridiculing Arizona’s SB1070. The video shows a police officer in Arizona chasing down a car in which the driver is obviously drinking. The officer asks him for his “papers” (including license, registration, social security card, birth certificate and work permit), but when the camera zooms out, we see that instead of questioning the drunk driver, he is questioning his sober Latino friend. Check it out for yourself-

Ridiculous as the scenario in the video is, it is not as far from the truth as it should be. Jokes apart, Arizona’s law, that makes it a crime to be undocumented and mandates that police officers stop and question someone based on how they look, seems to have unleashed a spate of state laws that aggressively threaten the equality, dignity and healthy co-existence of this country’s diverse population. Following the passage of SB1070, Gov. Jan Brewer has signed off on a bill that bans schools from teaching “ethnic studies,” classes that teach students of color about their heritage and history. The bill bans these classes based on the logic that they promote “resentment,” and encourage students to want to “overthrow” the U.S. government.

State schools chief, Tom Horne, who has been advocating for this bill (HB2281) for many years, believes that the Chicano and Mexican studies classes taught in the Tuscon school district (the first district where this bill will be implemented) teach Latino students that they are “oppressed by White people.” The Tuscon School district program offers its students, who are 56% Hispanic, courses on African-American, Mexican-American and Native-American studies that include the history and literature of specific ethnic group. According to Horne, these programs promote ethnic solidarity, “ethnic chauvinism” and racial resentment towards whites, rather than treating the students as “individuals.”

According to school district officials, the programs simply teach students the background to historical events, rather than promote resentment and hate towards other ethnic groups. This is what the Racism Review had to say about it-

An honest discussion of the history of whites’ racial oppression targeting Mexican Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, and other Americans of color in the southwest and elsewhere will be out of the question when and if this legislation goes into effect. Truth-telling about our white-racist history, and resistance to it by Americans of color, that gives people honest understandings (and/or group pride) will actually be illegal, as seen in this legislation of the folks in the Arizona legislature.

Sean Arce, director of Tuscon’s Mexican-American studies program, is disappointed that the state has decided to censor an academic program that has proved extremely successful. Judy Burns, who is on the Tuscon district’s governing board says she will refuse to comply with the law, and will not end the program that focuses on Chicano literature, history and sociology, and currently has a significant percentage of students enrolled in it. Once the law comes into effect (on December 31st, districts that do not comply with it could lose 10% of their State funding every month.

It is frightening that these legislators in Arizona believe that teaching young people about their history and cultural heritage is akin to promoting resentment between ethnic groups. Instead of encouraging a society built on freedom of thought, accessibility to knowledge and honest discussion, laws such as this one simply serve to deny the rich and diverse culture that is integral to the fabric of this country. To show your support for bringing back human rights in Arizona and protesting the spate of hateful laws, join AltoArizona for a Mass Mobilization on May 29th!

Photo courtesy of deprofiler.com

POLL: Do you approve of the new "ethnic studies" law in Arizona?

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