Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For

by Char Miller

Jan Brewer, the Governor of Arizona, says the funniest things. Especially about immigrants. Ok, I’ll admit that SB 1070, the state’s vicious anti-immigrant legislation, is nothing to laugh about. But when Brewer went on local television in early July she cracked me up.

Why? Because she told astonished viewers that Arizona police have begun to stumble on bodies buried in the desert that have been beheaded. Beheaded by those nasty immigrants she has been warning us about. Really, she said that.

Of course there is no truth to this preposterous allegation. Nor is there any basis for her claims that the “terrible border security crisis…has gotten worse.” Quite the reverse: the U. S. Borderlands are among the safest places in the United States, and getting more so. Then there is Brewer’s remarkable assertion that the majority of immigrants crossing into Arizona are drug dealers, mules or addicts. Investigations by journalists, Border Patrol officials, and county medical examiners have produced not a shred of evidence to support this and other of her bizarre rants.

Just as baseless is Senator John McCain’s frenzied claims that the state he represents is the “No. 2 kidnapping capital in the world.” Arizona has experienced nothing like the wave of kidnappings that mar social life in Africa, Asia and Central America; indeed, its figures are dropping, which suggests that the once-principled presidential candidate has gone off the deep end.

In this he has good company in the wacky State Senator Sylvia Allen. She has been blustering of late that "in the last few years 80 percent of our law enforcement that have been killed or wounded have been by an illegal." Arizona police departments have been quick to denounce her false charges.

All these lies have a purpose: the GOP in Arizona and across the nation has been flogging anti-immigrant horror stories to terrorize voters. The party wants to whip up its political base and drive independent voters into its ranks. Its fearmongering tactics and eagerness to incite racial prejudice, aided and abetted by right-wing talk radio and television, are also designed to cut into President Obama’s popular support and the Democratic Party’s congressional majority. This summer’s GOP craziness is all about the November 2010 elections.

Yet in so operating Republicans are proving to be certifiably crazy. They swear they want to include Latinos in their “Big Tent” coalition; they recognize--or at least the savviest of them do--that being inclusive is the only way that the GOP can remain a national party; it cannot otherwise survive in our twenty-first nation of immigrants. Perhaps it does not wish to: how else explain its sanctioning of repeated and vicious assaults on Hispanics, the very voters with whom they claim such great affinity?

The political impact of GOP anger and hostility is captured in the latest LatinoMetrics poll. It shows that the economy is no longer Latinos key worry--immigration is. And this change in focus came about in just six months, the exact period of time when Arizona politicians and others began to lambast immigrants. Latinos have taken notice. As one commentator told the Los Angeles Times: “Latinos are feeling less optimistic and more under siege.” Embattled, they are ready to fight back. They “have taken offense to the way immigrants have been demonized by politicians and political interest groups,” said Brent Wilkes, LULAC Executive Director, “and are prepared to vote accordingly.”

Come November, a crazed Jan Brewer may be just what the Democrats needed to maintain power. How funny is that?

Char Miller is W. M. Keck Professor and Director of the Environmental Analysis Program at Pomona College, Claremont CA. He is author of Deep in the Heart of San Antonio: Land and Life in South Texas and a columnist for the Rio Grande Guardian, where this essay originally appeared.