Today is Cinco de Mayo, a holiday that commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin. According to Wikipedia, the date is observed in the United States and other locations around the world as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride. Contrary to popular rumor, Cinco de Mayo has not been officially canceled in Arizona by passage of the now infamous Senate Bill 1070, at least not yet. Don’t worry ASU frat guy, you can still get hammered today for no apparent reason.
On April 23, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, the broadest and strictest anti-immigration measure in decades. The act makes it a criminal misdemeanor offense for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying registration documents required by federal law, and obligates police to make an attempt during a lawful detention to determine a person’s immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal alien. Police may then arrest a person if there is probable cause that the person is an unlawful alien, and a person arrested cannot be released without confirmation of the person’s legal immigration status by the federal government pursuant to § 1373(c) of Title 8 of the United State Code.
The response from many was absolute outrage, as those opposing the bill assume that this measure targeting illegal immigrants will inevitably result in the use of racial profiling in its enforcement. “There’s no distinguishing characteristic between an undocumented alien and someone who’s here legally,” said Glen Wasserstein, a partner with the Immigration Law Group in Washington. “How do you possibly have reasonable suspicion? Everybody of Hispanic orientation will be scrutinized.” Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles has called the new Arizona statute “the country’s most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law.” Because of this, others, including law professors, have said that it is flat out unconstitutional. President Obama has called SB 1070 “misguided,” and has asked the Department of Justice to look into the law to determine if it is constitutional. Already 3 lawsuits have been filed challenging SB 1070.
And Protests over SB 1070 have broken out all over the county. In Minnesota, 100 supporters gathered for what they called an emergency protest on April 26, 2010. According to the organizers, this protest was geared towards a larger scale protest to be held on May 1, 2010, which involved a gathering of thousands. A candle light vigil was held in Washington D.C. on April 24, 2010. And 60,000 immigrants turned out for a May Day protest in Los Angeles. Similar protests have been held at Yale Univerisy, in New York City, and all over Arizona in Phoenix, Sedona, and Flagstaff. Many have called for an economic boycott of Arizona and at least six conventions, scheduled to be held in Arizona, have been moved elsewhere.
But Perhaps no single industry has been more vocal about the potential abuses of this measure than the sports industry.
When the Diamondbacks visited the Chicago Cubs for a four game series this past weekend, a countless number of protesters lined up outside of Wrigley Field waving signs and shouting chants denouncing the Arizona law that would allow local law enforcement to detrmine immigration status upon “reasonable suspicion,” whatever that might be. Leone Bicchieri, the executive director of the Chicago Workers’ Collective, was at the protest. “[Our position] on SB 1070 is that it does absolutely nothing to attempt to fix our broken immigration system, and it primarily increases racial profiling,” Bicchieri said. “Not that it was such a people-of-color-friendly state before this.” In response to the growing outrage, the Arizona Diamondbacks general managing partner, Ken Kendrick, a significant donor to the Republican Party, has already come out publicly against SB 1070.
Same for the Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, whose team returns home today, on Cinco de Mayo, for game two of their playoff battle with the San Antonio Spurs. In a showing of support for opposition to SB 1070, Sarver decided to dress his team up in their alternate “Los Suns” jerseys in protest of the bill. In making this decision, Sarver took the opportunity to addressed the divisive bill signed into law just a few short weeks ago:
The frustration with the federal government’s failure to deal with the issue of illegal immigration resulted in passage of a flawed state law, Sarver said in a statement released by the Suns on Tuesday morning. However intended, the result of passing this law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question, and Arizona’s already struggling economy will suffer even further setbacks at a time when the state can ill-afford them.
And Sarver and Kendrick are not the only figures in professional sports to speak out regarding SB 1070. Appearing on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, Steve Nash, the iconic Suns guard who is also Canadian, didn’t mince his words. “I think that this is a bill that really damages our civil liberties,” he said. “I think it opens up the potential for racial profiling … racism. I think it’s a bad precedent to set for our young people. I think it represents our state poorly in the eyes of the nation and the world. I think that we have a lot of great attributes here and [this law] is something that we could do without. And I hope it will change in the coming weeks.”
And already, the Major League Baseball Players Association has expressed concern about how this bill could affect its large contingent of Latin American employees. More than 1,000 players, and hundreds more executives, coaches, trainers and business staff, spend about eight weeks of spring training in the Phoenix area. Latin Americans represent 25-plus percent of major league players, and the percentage in the minor leagues is even higher.
Writing for Yahoo Sports, Jeff Passan discussed exactly how this could affect those Latin American players:
Take, for example, this scenario: An 18-year-old from Venezuela playing in the rookie league jumps in a friend’s car to head to the grocery store. The friend rolls through a stop sign. A police officer witnesses the infraction. The law, signed last week by Gov. Jan Brewer, requires that “where reasonable suspicion exists … a reasonable attempt shall be made … to determine the immigration status of the person.” The Venezuelan player, accordingly, is asked to furnish paperwork proving his legal residence, a new burden of proof under SB 1070. If he happens to have forgotten his passport and work visa at home, his friend would get a traffic ticket and the player would get significantly more.
“Under that scenario,” said Mike Philipsen, the communications advisor for the Arizona Senate Republicans, who drew up the bill, “he could be detained.” The proliferation of Latinos in the game is why SB 1070 so frightens MLB and the MLB Players Association. As a result, The MLBPA released a statement opposing the law, which read in part:
The impact of the bill signed into law in Arizona last Friday is not limited to the players on one team. The international players on the Diamondbacks work and, with their families, reside in Arizona from April through September or October. In addition, during the season, hundreds of international players on opposing Major League teams travel to Arizona to play the Diamondbacks. And, the spring training homes of half of the 30 Major League teams are now in Arizona. All of these players, as well as their families, could be adversely affected, even though their presence in the United States is legal. Each of them must be ready to prove, at any time, his identity and the legality of his being in Arizona to any state or local official with suspicion of his immigration status. This law also may affect players who are U.S. citizens but are suspected by law enforcement of being of foreign descent. The Major League Baseball Players Association opposes this law as written. We hope that the law is repealed or modified promptly. If the current law goes into effect, the MLBPA will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members.
The Authors of the bill insist that SB 1070 is about addressing an imigration problem ignored far too long by the federal Government. However, as discussed in the clip below, the original language of the bill allowed enforcement of this law so long as the reasonable suspicion was not based “solely” on race. While this language has already been removed from the bill, which has already gone through one major revision since its inception on April 23, 2010, the inclusion of this original language gives key insight into the thought process of those drafting it–you can consider race in the enforcement of the law, as long as something else is part of the equation. And it is precisely this mindset that has upset so many people.
A leading Phoenix Employment and Immigration Attorney explains the problems associated with SB 1070
And of course, when judging the motives of those drafting this legislation, one should be mindful of Arizona’s problematic history as it relates to race issues.
In 1987, former Governor Evan Meachum, who was later impeached for other reasons, repealed Arizona’s MLK holiday. This is the same governor who attributed high divorce rates to women in the workforce and who continued to defend his use of the word “pickaninny” to describe African American children. Separate legislation was passed to again create a MLK holiday by the state legislature in 1989. However, activist groups in Arizona succeeded in forcing the holiday issue to undergo a ballot initiative.
That’s when the National Football League stepped into the political fray. At around the same time Arizona was fighting over the MLK holiday, the NFL was considering awarding the 1993 Super Bowl to the city of Tempe, a game that would have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the state. Stop me if you have heard this before, but blacks across the nation were calling for a complete entertainment and convention boycott of Arizona, damaging the state’s tourism industry by the cancellation of multiple conventions. Concerned about the message that this would send for a League whose employees were more than half black, the NFL monitored the situation in Arizona very closely.
The Site Selection Committee was chaired by Philadelphia Eagles Owner and GM, Norman Braman. Braman met with Art Mobley, a civil rights advocate sent to Orlando to advocate on behalf of Arizona’s interest in winning the Super Bowl bid for 1993. The committee ultimately voted to award the game to Arizona but warned that ‘if anything was done to dishonor the memory of Dr. King,’ the committee would vote to rescind the award of the game to Arizona. Mobley and Braman held an impromptu news conference to publicly reiterate the warning.
Arizona voters rejected the 1990 initiative to create a King holiday anyway.
The NFL’s response was drastic and swift: the Super Bowl committee, with pressure from the NFL Players association, voted to yank Super Bowl XXVII from Arizona, and awarded it instead to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena California. Faced with the boycott, Arizona voters finally approved the holiday by ballot in 1992. It’s fair to say the National Football League played a key role in the passage of the Martin Luther King holiday.
In 2001, Flagstaff attorney Lee Brooke Phillips and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona sued the state, charging that the Department of Public Safety — the highway patrol — engaged in rampant racial profiling. John Lamberth, a Temple University professor with expertise in racial-profiling research, produced data in 2000 that showed African Americans made up fewer than 3 percent of traffic offenders but 43 percent of all stops by the DPS. Based upon this study, the court ordered the highway patrol to turn over all data on traffic stops in northern Arizona for a one-year period. Commenting on the case, Phillips noted: “Look, the judge ordered the state to turn over a year’s worth of records, and the state’s prosecutor’s office refused to turn them over. We learned they weren’t turning them over because half of them have been destroyed.”
Arnold vs. Department of Public Safety reached a historic settlement in 2006 with a federal court’s approval.
It is against this backdrop with which passage of Senate Bill 1070 must be evaluated. While everyone agrees that Arizona has issues stemming from illegal immigration, the passage of this bill and the motivation of its architects can not be evaluated in a vacuum. In the months preceding its passage, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has become the target of a Department of Justice investigation for repeated claims of civil rights violations for neighborhood immigration sweeps. According to the New Times, a secondary newspaper in Phoenix, Deputies for MCSO conduct these raids wearing black ski masks in order to underscore the tone of terror. It is this same organization that would in part be responsible for enforcing this ill-advised piece of legislation.
SB 1070’s, major sponsor, state Senator Russell Pearce, has been an outspoken advocate for immigration reform in Arizona. Not lost on his critics, however, is that Pearce forwarded an email from National Alliance, a white separatist group, according to Wikipedia, to a group of supporters. The email entitled “Who Rules America,” criticized black and white intermixing and Jews in the media for promoting multiculturalism and racial equality, for depicting “any racially conscious White Person” as a bigot, and for presenting the Holocaust as fact. Pearce claimed that he forwarded this email in error. But in 2008, Pearce sponsored a measure, Senate Bill 1108, that would prohibit students at Arizona universities and community colleges from forming groups based in whole or part on the race. Had such a measure passed, the bill would ban groups that serve minority interests such as the Mexican American study program and the Black Business Students Association (seems like the federal constitution contains a clause guaranteeing the freedom of assembly, though admittedly I have not checked the document in a few days). Russell Pearce wasn’t finished. After passage of SB 1070, he immediately began working on another piece of legislation that sought to prohibit schools statewide from teaching ethnic diversity classes in the classrooms of public schools.
And it has been recently uncovered that a group called FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), an organization that has been described by some as a hate group, helped author SB 1070. In 1986, FAIR’s founder, John Tanton, wrote: “[a]s Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?” The group was further criticized for taking donations from an organization that advocated for eugenics. No wonder Bicchieri and others have questioned Arizona’s track record when it comes to treatment of minorities.
The National Football League was effective in the early nineties in shaping Arizona policy, and in the process, standing up for its African-American employees that live and work in the Grand Canyon State. According to some estimates, the decision to move the Super Bowl from Phoenix to Pasadena cost the citizens of Arizona some $200 million dollars in revenue for a state that depends heavily on the tourism industry. Add to that the lost revenue for the NBA all-star game, when that league basically told Arizona officials not to bother submitting a proposal, and its clear that the decision of Arizona tax payers to work one extra day in January cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars at a time when the local economy was struggling (who can forget Chris Rock’s famous quote “how bad do you have to hate a black man to refuse to take a day off from work?”). Major League Baseball has the same opportunity to step up to the plate and protect its Latin American employees by hitting the citizens of Arizona in the only place that apparently matters to them, the pocket book.
Should SB 1070 actually take effect in August of 2010, given Arizona’s incredbily poor history on minority issues, it’s time for MLB to send a message to Arizona and relocate the all-star game to a city that is not openly hostile to Latino-Americans. For once, Mr. Selig, in your miserable existence as an ambassador for the owners, I mean an ambassador for America’s pastime, take an actual stand on something and send a message to the state of Arizona that this misguided bill is unacceptable to the baseball community. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do.
Categories: All things Sports