Monday, May 3, 2010

Arizona: The New Nuremberg

In 1935, Nazi Germany instituted the Nuremberg Race Laws that basically deprived German Jews their rights as citizens and demoted them to "subjects." Jews were banned from marrying anyone of the "Aryan" race; even young non-Jewish women age 45 and under weren't allowed to be employed by Jews as housekeepers. German citizenship would only be granted to those who were of Aryan, non-Jewish ancestry and such citizenship could only be proven by actual documents that German citizens had to carry. The Nuremberg Race Laws set into motion a legal ethos that would ultimately spur Hitler and his minions to embrace the "Final Solution": the extermination of all Jewish people within the Third Reich.

Hitler understood that the majority of non-Jewish German people would accept such laws and the resulting crimes against humanity if they could rationalize to themselves, "It's the law: We have to follow it." More importantly, the rest of the world idly sat by and did nothing to combat the Nuremberg Race Laws; in America, a number of states had anti-miscegenation laws, and the U.S. Supreme Court did not uniformly ban anti-miscegenation laws until 1967 in the Loving v. Virginia decision.

Arizona's new immigration law (that gives non-federal Arizona law enforcement agencies the power to stop, question, and arrest potentially undocumented, "illegal" immigrants) takes it cue from Hitler's Nuremberg Race Laws. Numerous Arizonans and others across the country see the law as something they must accept; after all, it's a legal proclamation that was ushered in with an unusual amount of fanfare (most laws enacted by state legislatures don't receive such media attention); those who support the law say it's necessary to stem the influx of undocumented workers from other countries--namely, Mexican laborers.

Of course, supporters of the Arizona law would be terribly angered to be placed in the same catergory as supporters of the Nuremberg Race Laws and the National Socialists of the Third Reich. But the Arizona law has the same effect: Certain people will be targeted by law enforcement and the justice system and others will not simply because of their appearance, their physical surroundings, and their names. (Remember, often before police stop a vehicle, they call in a vehicle's license plate to get a tentative identification of the registered owner's name.)

In Germany, if one was blond, light-skinned, and blue-eyed--and didn't have a Jewish surname, one was above suspicion. In Arizona, if one is blond, light-skinned, and blue-eyed--and doesn't have a Spanish surname, that person can walk, work, and drive in Arizona without any fear of being stopped and questioned by local or state police about his or her legal right to be in Arizona.

And like the Jews in Nazi Germany, mostly Mexican undocumented workers are blamed for a host of ills: they're killing citizens; they're lowering the standards of living for citizens; they're taxing our educational and health systems. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Reich Minister of Propaganda, made similar complaints about Jews. And this weekend, I heard radio talk show "personality" Bill Cunningham make similar complaints about mostly Mexican undocumented workers (and he's not alone; just listen to almost any radio talk show host on so-called "conservative" radio or on Fox News and you'll hear the same message).

Goebbels knew that the airwaves and print media had to be controlled and deluged with negative propaganda about Jews if Hitler's dream of an all Aryan society was to become a reality. Likewise, in America today one rarely hears a radio or television talk show host note how we benefit daily from undocumented workers: they harvest, pack, and ship our inexpensive food, they bus our tables in restaurants, they mow our lawns, they build our houses and replace our roofs and remodel our kitchens, they fix our cars and recycle our old tires, they take care of our children in daycare centers, they attend to our elderly in rest homes--and I never hear people complain about the money they routinely save when they benefit from undocumented workers' labor. Just as the Jews were scapegoated for most of the societal problems in Nazi Germany, so are undocumented Mexican immigrants scapegoated in the United States.

What can we do to combat this terrible return to a Nuremberg-like mentality that has been codified by an Arizona law? We can boycott Arizona; we can refuse to buy anything that comes from Arizona, especially things bought online, and we can refuse to visit the state to add to the state's coffers as tourists. Will this boycott hurt Arizonans? Yes, but Martin Luther King, Jr., realized when he organized the Montgomery bus boycotts that those in power will be more eager to rectify a wrong when they hurt financially.

On May 1, 2010, Cardinal Roger Mahoney of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said to a crowd protesting the Arizona law that no one is "illegal" in God's eyes. Amen.