The last time I hoped Arizona Governor Jan Brewer would do the right thing was in the summer of 2010. I was sitting in my Principal’s office, only half-enjoying a visit from a former student – each of us was tense, awaiting announcement regarding SB1070.
Surely our state’s Governor would do the humane and right thing? Surely she would refuse to sign an insidious and un-American piece of legislation that would criminalize undocumented immigrants and would require state and city police officers to check the immigration status of a detained, stopped or arrested individual, if they reasonably suspect he or she could be an undocumented immigrant.
Surely a Governor of these United States in 21st century America would veto any legislation that had the potential to institutionalize racial profiling?
She didn’t. In an instant, Governor Brewer showed us that the lessons of history do not apply to her.
Swiftly and proudly, she signed an inhumane bill into law, and the world finally paid attention to an Arizona that, measure by measure, would continue to make the American life unlivable for immigrants.
What I found most harrowing then, with my personal baggage as an immigrant from Northern Ireland living in Arizona, was the prospect of immigrants being required to have their immigration papers on their person at all times. Shades of my home country in the 1980s, during The Troubles, when it was not uncommon for me to hand over my driver’s license for inspection by a member of the British Army or an RUC officer at random road closures and checkpoints.
I well recall a snowy afternoon at the top of the Ligoniel Road in Belfast. A student teacher, not yet twenty-one and heading home for Christmas, I was moving out of the Halls of Residence at Stranmillis College. My little Datsun weighed down with library books and lecture notes, clothes and toiletries, boxes of vinyl records and cassette tapes, a collection of concert posters wrapped in rubber bands, my prized hi-fi, and a violin, I somehow looked less like a university student and more, perhaps, like an IRA terrorist.
Even though I had my license and could answer politely and truthfully, the young soldiers’ questions about where I had been and where I was going, still I had to step aside in the slush and the snow, watching and waiting as they rifled through the contents of my car, looking under the seats and in the trunk, emptying out my make-up bag, disturbing the folders of college papers. All in the name of security I know, but to this day I question the randomness of it.
I remember raging inside – seething – that I was being subjected to such treatment in my own country. My. Own. Country. I said nothing. Of course, I said nothing, and I was soon sent on my way, but I never forgot it or the way it made me wonder about what it was about me on that particular day, that would cause British soldiers with guns to interrogate me and have me step out of my vehicle and search its contents? Did I fit some profile? Did I look like a terrorist? What was the ‘reasonable suspicion?
Fast forward to 2014, and we find ourselves waiting again to see if the Governor of a beleaguered Arizona will do the right thing. SB 1062 has passed both chambers of the Arizona legislature, and only Governor Jan Brewer can stop this discriminatory rule from going into effect.
Under the bill introduced by Republican State Senator Steve Yarborough, individuals and businesses would be granted the legal right to refuse services to individuals or groups if they claimed that doing so would “substantially burden” their freedom of religion.
In other words, business owners acting on sincerely held religious beliefs, can refuse services – discriminate against – groups that they perceive act in ways contrary to their religious beliefs. If signed into law, the bill would essentially legitimize discrimination against the LGBT community. Come to think of it, there is the potential for discrimination against other protected groups including non-married women. You get the picture, and it is a distressing picture, given that we are, after all, in America in the 21st century. Well, we’re in Arizona, which often is very far from the noble, inclusive idea of America itself.
I’m a straight woman, a single parent, an immigrant, a widow, a cancer patient. I often represent everybody’s worst nightmare with my dead husband and my cancer, reminding folks of what they fear the most – disease, loneliness, their own mortality. So why do I care so much about SB 1062? Because it has such potential to hurt good people, to deeply wound families who want nothing more than to get up every day knowing they are valued in their homes and schools, by their churches, and by their elected officials; knowing they are not “less than.”
A bill like SB1062 terrifies me because it signifies a hardening of the heart in Arizona, an indelible mark we find in deeply wounded faraway places. Places like my Belfast. Like Sarajevo. Like Johannesburg. Like Gaza.