We Don’t Need No Stinking Papers!

The new anti-immigrant law in Arizona (SB 1070) is more than a racist law. It is a device designed to divide and conquer. It’s not designed to just divide white-hued folks from brown hued ones; nor is it designed to merely divide citizens from non-citizens. It is also designed to divide Latinos. If one looks to previous such laws, say in Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa, they will find stories of Jews who turned in their fellow Jews and South African blacks who turned in their fellow Africans. A common motivation for this behavior was the belief that by turning in a supposedly illegal person, the forces of the law would not turn their wrath on those who were doing the turning in.

This scenario rests on the very supposition that a person can or can not be illegal. Illegality is a human construct. It can be given and taken away at the whim of those in power. Laws such as Arizona’s SB 1070 utilize the the suppositions inherent in this construct by labeling a certain type of person as illegal. It then takes this supposition and applies it to everyone, no matter whether they are legal or not in the eyes of the state. In Arizona, it works like this. There are many Latinos in the state of Arizona that do not have the necessary documents that would make it legal for them to live in Arizona. Most of these Latinos are brown-skinned. There are also many Latinos who live in Arizona that are either native-born US citizens or have documents that state they are in Arizona legally. SB 1070 mandates that the police in Arizona check the documents of everyone whom they suspect of being in their state illegally. This means that either the the police are to develop a special sense to determine who is living there illegally before they ask for identification or they are to ask for the required documents at their whim. Furthermore, if a citizen thinks someone is without documents stating their legal status and the police fail to investigate this citizen’s belief, those police will be in violation of the law. Secondary violations of any part of the law by any party are considered to be felonies and will result in prison time for the offending party.

The response to this law from politicians,the media and other self-appointed societal guardians has been mixed at best. Some have come out against it while others have come out strongly in favor. Most, however, seem to be waiting to see which way the political winds blow. We are told by many of the politicians that are against SB 1070 that this law is “un-American.” This is categorically untrue. The historical record of the United States is filled with laws whose only intention was to maintain a second class status for certain immigrants. From the laws enforcing the slave status of Africans to the Chinese Exclusion Acts; from laws institutionalizing racial segregation in the US South to the various employment schemes designed to control the flow of Latinos into the fields and other workplaces of corporate America, there is very little that is so profoundly “American” as legalized discrimination against immigrants, especially those labeled non-white.

Of course, most politicians speaking out against SB 1070 are unlikely to share this understanding of history. This doesn’t render their opposition irrelevant. Instead, it provides the more radical wing of the movement for a humane immigration policy with an opportunity to gain the ears of these politicians and their supporters. The opportunity to challenge the idea that some people can be illegal merely by their presence has never been greater. Indeed, Arizona’s attempt to codify that idea has the potential to expose anti-immigrant sentiment for the ultimately racist sentiment that it is. Getting back to the point made earlier in this piece, this law is about creating division. National borders are reinforced to control wages of workers of all nationalities and to create and maintain divisions. Laws like SB 1070 are merely internal extensions of those borders. Just like imperial war, immigration control is a tool of the imperial elites in their pursuit of domination and profit. If the immigrant rights movement wants to be truly successful, it must keep this perception as its basis. While opposing laws like SB 1070 is crucial, the movement’s essential demand must be the eradication of borders–especially those borders that restrict humans from crossing them.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on May 1st, 2010 at 11:06am #

    Ron is echoing on our idea of making people more or much more, or as far as we can, interdependent. The arizona laws, is rendering people more indepedent and thus more disorganized and easier to prey on!
    This is an ancient scheme. It ha sto go! tnx

  2. mary said on May 2nd, 2010 at 1:33am #

    Gov Jan Brewer looks as if she is full of the milk of human kindness!


  3. JE said on May 3rd, 2010 at 2:13pm #

    More comparisons to Nazi Germany and Apartheid…can’t you at least cite something a little more obscure so the intellectuals on this site can feel good about themselves for knowing about it.

    Oh my God, human beings are by nature resistance to change…that’s such a hard psychological concept to grasp…How ridiculous has the dialogue on this issue has become?

    Now this might seem racist but I’ll give it a go anyway. When my forefathers came to the US LEGALLY (Jewish Slovaks and Irish Catholics). They were treated far worse and they didn’t have outrageous examples like the holocaust to compare their plight to (all the worse for them). Yet somehow they managed to assimilate and prosper without making every misfortune about race even though a lot their misfortune definitely could have been attributed to racism and antisemitism.

    To me this is the same shit the ADL does with the holocaust. Trying to use past injustices to excuse present misdeeds…wha you want is for everyone who is already in this country legally to be strong armed into accepting these people breaking the law because they have brown skin…

    I sincerely doubt you’d find people opposed to Mexicans being in the US if they actually tried to assimilate somewhat and they weren’t here illegally…

  4. Don Hawkins said on May 3rd, 2010 at 2:27pm #

    fasten your seat belt JE, ’cause Kansas is going bye-bye.

    A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you. neo

  5. Don Hawkins said on May 3rd, 2010 at 2:53pm #


    The times are a changin. Do you have your papers no I lost them along time ago. Cup of coffee nice game of checkers oh and those pictures due to climate change yes it sure is and that ain’t no bullshit.