Friday, May 14, 2010

I am Eritrean-Arizonian: Arizona’s anti-immigration law

Arizona’s anti-immigration law

Commentary by Nunu Kidane

[IRN editor's note: This commentary originally appeared at

On Friday [April 23, 2010], Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070, making it legal to racially identify and discriminate against immigrant communities of color.

I am an Eritrean woman living in Oakland, but today, I call myself Arizonian — we are all Arizonians today and tomorrow until the state repeals SB 1070.

For as long as I have been in the United States, and I have been here nearly three decades, I cannot recall a time when I have felt more deeply disappointed at my host country.

The last time I was equally frustrated was when President Bush decided to unilaterally invade Iraq over bogus assumptions that it had something to do with 9/11. At least then, there was a massive national call for peace. We marched weekly in protest and there was a general sense of being united against a government that was doing wrong.

Now, there is virtual silence on this Arizona bill — the objections and cries for help are coming from largely immigrant rights groups in Arizona and the nation, but I have yet to hear support from human rights organizations. If ever there was one, this is a human rights issue.

This country prides itself for being the bastion of democracy and equality and fairness. Many of us immigrants, regardless of where we came from, truly believe in the ideals this country stands for. Some of us came here as refugees fleeting repression and threat of death. Others through family reunification policies, and many more simply crossed the border in desperate search for employment to support families back home.

Whatever brought us here, we all arrived feeling secure that the U.S. is a country that is built on foundations of equality, as stated in the constitution, and it has laws against open discrimination. But we never considered the laws themselves would be written against us and the police and border control agents ordered to stop and search us because we look “like an immigrant.”

When did the word immigrant become synonymous with “Spanish-speaking” or even any person of color? I know many immigrants from Italy, Slovenia, Ireland and other places in Europe who are in the U.S. “illegally.” Of course they know, as do I and everyone else, that Arizona’s bill does not threaten them. It is largely assumed that racial profiling will be used to persecute people from Mexico and Latin America.

That is why we must all be Arizonians today. We must all be the “immigrant” that the police and border control agencies are looking for. There are times in history that call on us, as individuals, to stand for what is right and just. There were heroic acts of selfless courage that saved the lives of thousands of Jews when German soldiers marched in to visually identify and take them to death camps.

You need to be that hero today. No need to go out and march if you don’t want to, no need to stand up and shout. You can take several steps quietly in the privacy of your home to oppose something you know in your heart to be wrong.

Can we stand aside and watch as hundreds and thousands are prevented from having education, health care and basic services because they are racially different? Are we going to do anything about the fact that hundreds of thousands will now be locked up for no other reason than being physically present in a place without the proper identification papers?

This is especially a call for black people, African-Americans and black immigrants to stand up and oppose this bill. No other community has suffered more from law enforcement or the institutionalization of racist policies. Some African-Americans may feel that this is not “our struggle,” that the immigrants have nothing in common with the history of blacks in the U.S. They may even regard immigrants as opponents.

There is an organization whose sole mission is to speak to this and reverse such false perceptions. The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) was founded and is led by African-Americans and black immigrants to build connections, from the grassroots to policy makers, between blacks and immigrants. Be sure to read their mission and most recent blog at

Nunu Kidane is director of Priority Africa Network and sits on the Steering Committee of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

NOTE: BAJI is a member of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

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