Today, former President Bill Clinton delivered the keynote speech at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund commemorating and reflecting on the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing and what we can learn from it today. This week, the Arizona legislature passed the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” a bill which will probably end up establishing the toughest set of state immigration laws in the country. In his speech, Clinton explained that the Oklahoma City Bombing occurred in an environment of widespread insecurity and disorientation and that similar sentiments underlie Arizona’s response to the problem of illegal immigration:
Now, we have the highest percentage of Americans who have been out of work for six months or more than we’ve had in decades. This is disorientating and people are looking for anchors to make life simple and understandable and digestable again and sometimes with the idea that they need to go back to an idyllic time that never existed. That’s a big part of the explanation for this anti-immigration law that Arizona just passed or the idea that we out to bring back Confederate month in Virginia without saying anything about slavery. […]
I’m not defending the specifics of any of these, I’m just telling you this is what’s going on: there’s an enormous psychological disorientation today and that’s also the way it was in the early nineties.
Arizona has often been referred to as “ground zero” of the nation’s immigration fight. It is home to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who instructs his officers to arrest someone for being an undocumented immigrant based solely on their “speech,” “clothing,” and “erratic behavior.” It’s the state where a nine-year-old girl and her father were shot and killed by anti-immigrant Minuteman vigilantes this past summer. It’s also the place where the brutal murder of prominent rancher Robert Krentz leads politicians to publicly blur the line between dangerous drug cartel operatives and undocumented workers looking for nothing but a better life — all in the absence of any proof regarding the killer’s country of origin, immigration status, or motive.
Arizona is only a microcosm of the nation as a whole. Over the past few years, what started as a debate on immigration policy has spiraled into unrestrained immigrant bashing, finger-pointing, and insults. In an atmosphere of federal stalemate and inaction, state and local governments have over-compensated with a flurry of anti-immigration laws. Clinton got at the point that most Americans who support such policies aren’t “bad people,” but that their reaction is in some ways a natural response to the economic and demographic changes the country has experienced this decade. Speaking in broader terms beyond immigration, Clinton warned that “we must not forget that when that happens we have to pay special care…we can’t let the debate veer so far into hatred that we lose focus of our common humanity.”
The “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” would allow police to arrest anyone who is in this country illegally and charge them with trespass, require police to attempt to determine the immigration status of anyone they encounter, outlaw the hiring of day laborers off the street, and prohibit anyone from knowingly transporting an undocumented immigrant for any reason. Today, Courthouse News Service pointed out that the bill goes as far as to fine those who allegedly seek work through a “gesture or a nod.” The bill is still awaiting the signature of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ), who hasn’t commented on it other than saying she has “a strong and consistent track record of supporting responsible immigration-enforcement measures.”