How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Short film: 'Borderland'

Last week, as the furor over Arizona's SB 1070 was coming to a head, the late True/Slant posted as one of its final items this intriguing short film about border security, as seen through the eyes of two grizzled and armed border residents. One stalks drug runners, another takes pity on migrants being led by smugglers through brutal terrain. For those who live along the fence, many of whom I've met and interviewed, there is nothing abstract about the debate over border security.

True/Slant's all-too-brief run has wound to a close following its acquisition by Forbes Media earlier this year.


In the news this morning

Now that the battle over Arizona's SB 1070 is set to take place in federal appeals court this fall, the immigration-related news this week is no longer all Arizona, all the time. But there are a number of other interesting stories unfolding, among them these:

  • Controversy continues over a leaked U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services memo proposing means to legal status for certain undocumented immigrants, criticized as a plan for "backdoor amnesty," by GOP leaders, some of who are now calling for a hearing, according to the Arizona Republic. In recent days, various news outlets explained the contents of the memo. Groups it would benefit include immigrants from Central America and the Caribbean who hold temporary protected status, the Miami Herald reports.

  • The Hill is one of several publications in recent days to report on at the looming battle over the 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to those born in the United States. Several GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Russell Pearce of Arizona, the architect of SB 1070, favor the idea of amending the constitution so as to deny birthright citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants.


As immigration politics play out, border deaths rise

desert helicopter

Photo by rejuvesite/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A U.S. Border Patrol helicopter over the Arizona desert

A few days before I left for Phoenix last week to cover the events surrounding SB 1070, Arizona's controversial anti-illegal immigration law, I posted on a darker story unfolding to the south: Just in the first two weeks of July, the bodies of 40 people believed to have crossed the border illegally had been delivered to the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office in Tucson.  Officials there were struggling with a crowded morgue and concerned that if the trend continued, July border-crossing deaths there would top their single-month record of 68 deaths in July 2005.

That did not happen, but according to the Homeland Security Department, but there is worse news: Year to date, overall border-crossing deaths in the U.S. Border Patrol's arid Tucson sector have topped those recorded by the agency during fiscal year 2005, the deadliest year on record along the entire southwest border, when 492 deaths were recorded border-wide.


Q&A: A fifth-generation ex-Minuteman on SB 1070

Al Garza is the former executive director and vice-president of the Arizona-based Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. The group disbanded in March. Garza now heads Patriot's Coalition, a conservative activist group with an anti-illegal immigration component. He lives in Huachuca City, Ariz., about 65 miles southeast of Tucson.

M-A: You’re a fifth-generation American of Mexican descent, born in Texas. Why are you in favor of SB 1070?

Garza: It’s simple. We already have the existing federal law that has been in existence for I don’t know how many decades now. All we are doing is mirroring the law, since the government is refusing to enforce any law that has to do with illegal immigration, be it securing the borders, be it employers. We think that these people are untouchable. It just goes on and on.

M-A: Latinos who are opposed to SB 1070 say one of their biggest concerns is that the law, which enables local police to check for immigration status, could lead to racial profiling. What do you think?

Garza: I think it’s nonsense. I have never been profiled. I have lived here all my life. So did my father, and my grandfather and his father. I have never been pulled over by anyone just because of the color of my skin. I am very dark. I consider myself chocolate-colored. I have never been pulled over for my color. SB 1070 has nothing to do with racial profiling. It is interesting to me that people who have some connection to illegal immigrants, and illegal immigrants themselves, are the only ones that have fear of SB 1070.

I have put it to the test. I have stood out there by a gas station, picked up a bunch of brown friends and put on caps and dirty clothes. The cops would come by, and not a thing. I did this last year.

M-A: Have you faced criticism from other Latinos for your support of SB 1070?

Garza: Sure. They call me a traitor. My challenge has always been, “A traitor to whom?" I’m not from Mexico, I’m from the United States. I am an American that just happens to be of Hispanic origin. I don’t find that to be a challenge at all. This is about the rule of law, and enforcing the rule of law and border security. People say, “Isn’t in it inhuman, when these people walk through the desert for a better life?” Why doesn’t Mexico take care of its people?

M-A: What sort of action would you like to see from the federal government?

Garza: It’s really easy. I would like for the border to be secure. I don’t care how they do it. If it calls for the military, that is what it takes. We need to secure the border. We need to enforce immigration laws. We have got to disconnect ourselves from the fact that they are here and we have to provide for them. We don’t have to do anything. We secure the border, and we hold employers accountable for their actions. Take away all the public services. Mexico is not providing for them. We give them what Mexico is unwilling to do for its own people.

M-A: Would you say that SB 1070 has re-energized the anti-illegal immigration activist movement?

Garza: It has probably given us a little more teeth, because we know that we not only make sense, but that we brought up the awareness.


In the news this morning

WIth Arizona's SB 1070 anti-illegal immigration law set to take effect Thursday and a court decision on its fate expected at any time, most of the top immigration stories continue to come out of Arizona, where 89.3 KPCC will be headed later this week. Here are a few:

  • A decision that could suspend the implementation of SB 1070 is expected soon from U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton, according to KTAR in Phoenix. Bolton heard arguments last week in two of several legal challenges to the measure, including a federal government lawsuit.

  • The Los Angeles Times reports on a Phoenix hate-crime case, the fatal May shooting of a Latino U.S. citizen, in which the shooter is thought to have been motivated by the climate of racial tension surrounding SB 1070; in an opinion piece, Gregory Rodriguez points out how the numbers - i.e. dropping illegal border-crossing arrests - conflict with the angry rhetoric. He also takes mainstream media, including his employer, to task for opening the online comments section to "racist rants."

  • According to a USA Today story out of Mexico City, Mexican officials are preparing for an increase in deportees if SB 1070 is implemented, with additional consulate workers in Arizona and border migrant shelters bracing for new arrivals.

  • Taking an agricultural perspective, CattleNetwork asks interesting questions in this short piece, such as: "Should growers, dairy operators and livestock producers simply be compensated better for their production in order to pay higher wages to legal workers? This would likely raise some food prices."

  • Politico observes how the ongoing immigration debate - and the ongoing impasse on immigration reform - benefits politicians and special-interest groups.

  • Finally, on an unrelated note, the Daily Breeze highlights a report that calls on lawmakers to draw more grocery stores to low-income neighborhoods.