NOTE: This is a guest editorial I wrote for the current issue of Folio Weekly magazine in Jacksonville, Fla.
In the summer of 2020, my son will be 15 years old. I imagine him riding his bike to the beach. Maybe he’s not wearing a shirt, and has a hat perched backwards on his head. Maybe he’s in a hurry, pedaling fast to catch up to a girl he likes, and he speeds through a red light, or rides against traffic for a minute.
If Florida Republicans have their way, that will be enough for police to stop him, demand proof of his citizenship, and detain him until he can call me to clear up the matter.
Sound far-fetched? It’s not. My son was born in Guatemala, and his Mayan heritage is evident in his caramel skin and dark eyes. Even as an adorable 5-year-old, In the mostly white enclave of Ponte Vedra, he stands out. As a teenager – let’s face it – he’ll stand out in a different way.
Arizona has passed an anti-immigration law that allows authorities to stop anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. It is not, supporters say, a license for racial-profiling. But what else can it be? It’s unlikely that blond-haired, blue-eyed people will suffer the indignities afforded by such a law.
In Arizona, the law targets Mexicans and other Hispanics. A similar law in Florida would additionally take aim at Haitians and Cubans. The state’s two leading Republican candidates for governor, Bill McCollum and Rick Scott, have both expressed support for such legislation, and in fact activists have already begun drafting the language. Rick Scott has donated money to a defense fund to fight President Obama’s challenge of the Arizona law, and has vowed to bring the same law to Florida if elected.
McCollum has softened his stance by saying he supports the Arizona law but doesn’t believe it’s necessary in Florida, which is like saying he really admires tyranny but doesn’t find it appropriate here. What?
There are a number of issues that give anti-immigration activists a sympathetic ear from many Americans. The first revolves around the drug trade and crime, and the (incorrect) perception that most illegals participate in both.
Secondly, images of human traffickers dragging desperate women and children down unpaved roads of misery to reach American soil give everyone reason to question the government’s immigration policies.
And of course, there’s the idea that people who are here illegally suck valuable resources from social services such as education and medical treatment, and take jobs from unemployed citizens.
Migrant workers laugh at the last idea. United Farmworkers of America has started a campaign entitled Take Our Jobs, offering to help anyone find a migrant farm work job making less than minimum wage with no benefits, no workers’ compensation, and no guarantee of employment beyond the last blooming piece of fruit.
It’s hard not to agree that the nation’s immigration policy at the least needs to be reformed to discourage illegal crossings, which too often lead to indebtedness, poverty and even death.
But the answer doesn’t lie in looking suspiciously at people of color who speak with an accent, which smacks of racism. It smacks, in fact, of the same sort of white supremacy that spawned Nazi Germany. Really.
There are millions of American citizens who could reasonably be suspected of being non-citizens. But simply being American means not having to worry about someone accusing you of the contrary.
I am an American citizen by birth. My son is an American by law. Do we maintain different levels of citizenship? I’m afraid that many people believe so. At least a dozen times a month, people ask me, “What’s their nationality?” referring to my three children. I always reply that they are American, because that’s what they are. Their ethnicity is a different question.
But the simple misuse of the term “nationality” tells me a lot about who many Americans feel ranks highest in this great nation. My son, who loves hot dogs and trains and the Boston Red Sox, is as American as me. But his citizenship? If Florida politicians have their way, it’ll be second class at best.