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Delaney: Arizona

06/14/10 7:55AM By Dennis Delaney
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(HOST) Commentator Dennis Delaney is a former state senator and an educator. He recently spent a semester teaching in New Mexico, which got him to thinking about Arizona's new immigration law.

(DELANEY) A lady I love is in tears.
 
You know her. She stands on a tiny island in New York harbor. She's tall, she's proud, she faces out and she's welcoming. The torch she holds high has long been a white light in the darkness of intolerance, oppression and life threatening poverty. The poet Emma Lazarus described her as: "A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning."
 
Many think of her as Lady Liberty.
 
A small island next to hers is called Ellis. My Irish grandparents, Nora and Dennis,  passed through Ellis as they fled life-crushing poverty in the Ireland of those days. Their son Joe, my father, gave his young manhood, rifle in hand and plummeting in parachutes, to keep the promise of that torch forever.
 
But Arizona, a state far from Liberty Island, has created a statute which mandates that if law enforcement stops you for any legal reason, and there are many, you can be forced to prove your legality. Have you left your purse or wallet home? Too bad. Get ready for some jail time.
 
What this law really means, and no honest person denies it, is if you are dark skinned or Latino-appearing, your are under suspicion. Bear in mind, there are almost 500,000 Latinos in Arizona.
 
I have just returned from a semester on the faculty of  New Mexico State University. I didn´t count my students, but at least half or more were Latino. I should add that they were as bright, hardworking and polite as any I have ever known. They taught me how incredibly rich our country is in vibrant cultures. To think that any one of these kids could be questioned in Arizona under suspicion of being illegal is impossible for me, who love this country, to fathom.
 
If your skin color is not correct, then: ¨Your papers, please.¨
 
I ask you this: Do you think that criminalizing someone without identity papers will stop the flow of drugs sliming across our borders? No way. Drugs are in this country because we want them, we buy them and we use them.

Access to this country must be legal. But if we still believe in the protection from oppression that Lady Liberty offers, then we must not profile those with dark skin or a Latino appearance.
 
This action by the Arizona legislature reminds me of a poem by the German pastor Martin Niemöller. ¨They came first for the communists and I didn´t speak up because I wasn´t a communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn´t speak up because I wasn´t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn´t speak up because I wasn´t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn´t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak up.¨
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