I’ve found my way to one of the best Mexican restaurants in Phoenix, the nation’s fifth-largest city — a municipality that also happens to be ground zero in the immigration debate.
I’ve returned to this city — where I lived for two years in the late 1990s, back when illegal immigrants were recruited and hired and not resented and hunted. Back then, and for many decades before, Mexican immigrants had been as much a part of Arizona as cactus, torquoise, and kachina dolls.
Today, according to the shrillest of voices on the right, they’re a bunch of illegal invaders who are taking jobs from American teenagers and twenty-somethings who secretly ache to work outdoors in 115-degree temperatures.
My lunch companion is a Mexican-American and native Arizonan who is angered and disgusted by SB 1070, the state’s infamous immigration law that, before it was defanged by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton, didn’t just allow racial profiling but required it. As she surveyed the menu, she wondered whether what she’s craving is worth the risk.
“I want menudo,” she said, referring to the spicy Mexican soup made with tripe, hominy, and chiles. “But, I’m not sure. Is that reasonable suspicion?”
We both laughed.
Could be. When Arizona officials were asked to produce a list of factors that would reasonably raise the suspicions of local police officers — who wouldn’t know what they were doing anyway because, after all, they’re not trained to enforce federal immigration law — they said that, among others things, you could get crossways with police by having difficulty speaking English, dressing a certain way, driving a certain kind of car, driving a car that was overcrowded, having no driver’s license, and acting nervous.
In that case, take me in, Coppers. As a U.S. citizen who was born in the United States to parents who were born in the United States with three grandparents who were born in the United States, not to mention someone who didn’t sleep through high school civics, this law makes me very nervous.
That goes for the native Arizonan, too, who asked not to be identified because she works for a state university.
“The racists are out of the closet now,” she said. “And more of them are going to come out in the future. Just watch.”
Not every Mexican-American in Phoenix, or in Arizona, agrees with her. Not everyone thinks this law — which some have dubbed “The Mexican Removal Act” — sprang from racism. But, I would imagine, many of them do.