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Ignacio Uría, Ph.D. in History and Adjunct Professor, Universidad de Navarra

Latinos in Arizona

Tue, 01 Jun 2010 07:27:41 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Arizona became a U.S. state in 1912. Until then it had belonged to Spain and briefly to Mexico, although part of the state had been American since the mid-19th century. In other words, English has not even been spoken in Arizona for a hundred years, but there are illegal Hispanic families who have been there for three centuries. Of its current eight million inhabitants, 30% are of Mexican origin, a country with which it shares some 700 kilometers of border. If we add undocumented immigrants to that percentage, the result is that Arizona has about three million Latinos.

At the end of next July, when the thermometer reaches 110 Degrees Fahrenheit the new immigration law will go into effect. Then Arizona will be on fire from all four corners, as the rule forces the police to stop anyone suspected of being illegal even if they have done nothing illegal. Thus, if a traffic warden pulls over a car and the driver looks "Latino," the cop will be able to arrest him only on "reasonable doubt" that he is undocumented.

The rule has provoked righteous indignation from the immigrant community, which considers it racist and disastrous for the Economics. In the recent large demonstration against the law, it was clear the difficulties that the illegal population was already facing. For example, this legislation is perfect for exploitative employers, who know that their illegal workers will not complain for fear of deportation. Another consequence is that people who need medical attention attendance will go to the hospital for the same fear and even less will report any robbery or assault they suffer.

The Arizona police, moreover, have said that they lack the means to enforce the law and that if their men dedicate themselves to identifying Hispanics (as is their obligation, since otherwise they may be the ones denounced) they will have to stop pursuing hundreds of more serious crimes. The merchants, for their part, are already feeling the harmful effects of the new rule. Basically because thousands of illegals have fled to neighboring states (such as California or New Mexico) and consumption is at an all-time low.

Finally, 2010 is a census year in the U.S. and this subject of laws scares immigrants, who do not trust that the data they provide will be used against them. This is a very serious issue, since Washington distributes federal funds according to the population (legal or illegal) of each state and, for some residents, less money to build roads, build schools or expand hospitals, a measure that hurts everyone: whites, Hispanics, legal or illegal.

Civil rights organizations have already started a campaign called "Boycott Intolerance" to repeal the Arizona law. Against it, 60% of Americans are convinced that Hispanics must be stopped.

At the heart of this issue is fear. The fear of the unstoppable Latino wave, a community that already surpasses blacks as the largest minority. Today there are some 54 million inhabitants (18% of the population) and the federal government itself foresees that by 2050 there will be 120 million. That is, one out of every three inhabitants.

Barack Obama, who promised Latinos a broad regularization of illegals, says now is the time for the new national immigration law, but for that he needs the Republican Party... which governs Arizona.

So the matter is going to go on for a long time.