Arizona: ‘the meth lab of democracy’

 My home state of Arizona is a beautiful place to visit, boasting 300 plus days of pure blue sky and the stunning natural beauty of the Grand Canyon National Park, Sedona and Monument Valley as well as many of the famed sites of the Wild West, including Tombstone (Wyatt Earp’s Gunfight at the OK Corrall.) The capital city, Phoenix, known affectionately as the Valley of the Sun, is a sprawling suburban metropolis.

But it is Arizona’s reputation as the right wing backwater of America which has marked the state out in recent times. This reputation has been further shored up by the controversial decision by State legislators and Governor Jan Brewer to pass into law last week a bill which has polarised the debate over immigration reform across the US like never before.

The bill includes making it a crime for legal immigrants not to carry documentation proving their legal status at all times, as well as allowing for people to sue local government or agencies if they believe laws pertaining to immigration are not being enforced. But it is the stipulation that police officers who believe they have “reasonable suspicion” regarding someone’s immigration status can demand to see documents which has provoked the cry of racial profiling.

In a sketch on the popular Daily  Show with Jon Stewart, ‘reasonable suspicion’ was defined as committing suspicious acts such as ‘gardening or burping white people’s babies,’ a humourous reference to the employment role assumed by many illegal immigrants.

Here’s the New York Times’ editorial on the law:

The Arizona Legislature has just stepped off the deep end of the immigration debate, passing a harsh and mean-spirited bill that would do little to stop illegal immigration. What it would do is lead to more racial profiling, hobble local law enforcement, and open government agencies to frivolous, politically driven lawsuits.

Arizona is no stranger to controversy. Fans of the Nolan Show will know of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the man behind the tent city prison in the desert. Sheriff Joe has initiated a new ‘crime suppression operation’ this week on the back of the new legislation- and, as the story of Sergio Martinez-Villaman demonstrates, there will be genuine reasons why opponents of the stringent legislation and approach of Arpaio will continue to fear the possibilities of abuses of power.

But Arizona’s card has been marked before by citizens of the other 49 States of the Union. The shameful Martin Luther King Holiday debacle saw the spotlight shine firmly on the State, which proved costly when the NFL moved the Super Bowl away from the State following howls of protests from fans and players.

History would appear to be repeating itself as sporting and political figures in the past few days have called for boycotts of the Grand Canyon State in protest at the legislative steps. Already the World Boxing Council (WBC) has said it will not schedule Mexican fighters to contest bouts in the state and New York and San Francisco politicians have gone on the record to call for Major League Baseball to reschedule next year’s All Star game away from Phoenix. Meanwhile, the State’s sole baseball team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, face the prospect of continuing protests at opposing team’s grounds as opponents of the legislation in other cities throughout the States vent their fury on the iconic Arizonan sports team.

Phoenix is, even by American standards, a young city. Its population growth has been dramatic. From a resident population of 65,000 in 1940, the urban population exploded in the post-war era, quadrupling between 1950 and 1960 and continuing a steadily marked rise to the present day, where the urban population is estimated at 1.5 million and the metropolitan population at some 4.5 million souls.

The city has come of age during my lifetime and nowhere is this more evident than in the sporting sphere. Before the Phoenix Suns basketball franchise was born in 1968, the state had no resident team playing in any of the four major professional sports nationwide. Since the mid-80s however, the city of Phoenix has risen to the top table, represented in every sporting league (with the Cardinals, Coyotes and Diamondbacks) and also muscling its way into college football’s lucrative BCS with the once small fry Fiesta Bowl.

Arizona was the 48th state to enter the Union and it would appear that the centennial celebrations in 2012 will be marked by continuing strained relations between the largely white conservative and republican population and many of its fellow members in the Union.