Tag Archive for 'arizona'

Arizona Town Fights to Keep Non-English Speakers Off The Ballot

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To me, Arizona is like an incredibly gifted and interesting kid with low self-esteem.  The state has a lot going for it on its own that would make most people want to visit and like it.  It’s got the Grand Canyon along with a bunch of other beautiful national parks, it’s one part of the Four Corners states, it has great ski resorts, and a rich history.  Yet for some reason, much like the aforementioned low self-esteem child, it thinks the only way to get attention is by acting out.

Seriously, first it tries to pass that cockamamie immigration law, SB 1070, that would have required every alien to constantly carry around their papers.  And now there’s a town in the state that’s trying to keep a person off a seat for city council due to her less-than-basic English skills.  Hmm, okay, maybe that latter cry for attention isn’t all that unreasonable.  But still, it makes you want to just shake the state and tell it to love itself.

But seriously, for real this time, San Luis, a small town in Arizona, has recently made some waves in the media over some controversy with the town city council elections.  A candidate by the name of Alejandrina Cabrera, a native Spanish speaker, wants to run for a spot on the council, but was blocked in court by the city’s mayor, Juan Carlos Escamilla.  Escamilla claims that Cabrera isn’t qualified to serve on the council because her English skills aren’t up to snuff.  Though he also admits his own English isn’t perfect, he asserts Cabrera’s English shortcomings are severe enough to be a hindrance to her governing abilities.

Cabrera has conceded that her English isn’t great and a linguist’s report shows her to only possess “basic survival level” English, but she argues that in a town like San Luis this is sufficient.  She might have a point as the town only has about 25,000 residents, is mostly bilingual, and sits right on the U.S.-Mexico border.  As it stands right now, the Court must decide whether or not to strike Cabrera from the ballot come election time.

It’s worth noting that many states have laws requiring citizens in political position to be able to speak English, and not surprisingly Arizona also has such a law in place.  The issue is that many of these states, including Arizona, don’t really specify how much English a person needs to know in order to be considered able to speak English.  It might sound like a trivial detail, but as you can see in Cabrera’s case, it’s quite literally her whole case.  As Arizona’s law sits today, there’s not much guidance in this area, only a general provision.  About the only good thing about this situation is that the story serves as a great jumping point for how an English-requirement law should be written and whether or not it should even exist.

But before we get to that, it’s worth noting that many people think this law is discriminatory, and should be a form of illegal governmental discrimination.  However, that’s simply not the case under the Constitution; states are given a general police power under the Tenth Amendment that allows them to legislate for the general welfare of the state’s citizens.  Furthermore, it’s long been established by the U.S. Supreme Court that both state and federal governments can establish basic requirements that must be fulfilled if one is to take a leadership position in our government.  And setting a language requirement is certainly within both the federal and state government’s rights.

Now that that’s out of the way, back to solving the English requirement issue.  I don’t know about you guys, but I think figuring out how proficient someone is in English was already solved a long time ago by the Department of Education.  The answer is simple: standardized testing.  It doesn’t even have to be university level, just the basic ESL test given to all foreign students is sufficient to determine how proficient a prospective candidate is in English.

I don’t know why these legislators never thought about including something like this before in their state laws.  In order to establish one’s fluency in English for political office, that candidate must be able to pass an ESL test.  If they do, then they can run for the government position.  And to avoid any Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection issues, make the test applicable to all candidates running.  Even the native speaker – everyone has to pass it.  Simple, right?  I think so.

But the bigger issue here is whether an English requirement for political office should even exist.  Technically our country has no official language, despite the prevalence of English.  We are a country of immigrants after all and we were founded on the principle of equality.  In that sense, why require anyone to speak English at all?  However, we can’t deny the reality that most everyone in this country speaks English and therefore in order for one to be an effective leader here, that candidate must be able to communicate with the people in this country in the language that the majority speaks.

Ultimately, I think this is too big of a question to answer . . . on my own that is.  English as America’s official language has always been a contentious subject.  So I leave this question’s answer to you, dear readers?  What do you think about the English requirement?  Nay or yea?

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Arizona Bans “The Tempest” and Any Other Book that Might Encourage Discussions about Racism

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Arizona is on a roll. First, it passes one of the most restrictive anti-immigration laws in the country, on the (false) premise that the federal government is becoming lax in its enforcement of existing immigration laws. Its largest county continues to elect a sheriff who blatantly disregards the constitution, and fails to investigate hundreds of sexual assault cases because he’s devoted all his resources to going after immigrants.

And now, another one of that state’s brilliant and not-at-all-racist laws is having some…interesting consequences. A recent state law bans public schools from teaching ethnic studies courses. This effectively bans schools from teaching subjects like Mexican-American studies.

The law officially bans public schools from teaching any subjects that “promotes the overthrow of the United States Government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Taken at face value, this law seems pretty reasonable. However, it’s had the effect (which was its intended effect) of banning just about any class that seeks to educate students about other cultures.

An Arizona court has just ruled that Shakespeare’s play The Tempest cannot be taught in class. This is because The Tempest is about a banished duke who seeks revenge through magic, and deals with themes such as colonialism, slavery, and racism. Apparently, it’s just not OK to discuss those subjects in the classroom.

As you can imagine, I’m not in favor of this action, or the law that prompted it. I’m not sure what’s going on in Arizona, but it’s definitely nothing good. In a school district where close to 60 percent of the students are Latin American, a law that effectively bans schools from teaching students about that group’s history and culture sends a pretty clear message, whether it was intended or not: your culture has so little value that we feel the need to ban public schools from teaching any classes about it.

Laws like this will probably be short-lived, as Latin-Americans are by far the fastest growing demographic in Arizona, and contrary to the apoplectic ravings of talk radio hosts, most of them are there legally, and of those, a large percentage are U.S. citizens, meaning that they can vote.

To be honest, I don’t even have much of an opinion on the educational value of ethnic studies programs in public schools. However, this law pretty obviously is not motivated by an honest, good-faith belief that these programs lack educational value and that school resources are best spent elsewhere. It seems to be motivated by antipathy towards, or at least suspicion of, Latin-American culture, and Latin-Americans in general.

From a legal standpoint, however, I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done to stop this. States are free to regulate the curriculum of public schools, and there’s nothing in the Constitution that stops them from doing so. Unless Arizona begins segregating its schools by race, it’s unlikely that the federal courts can do anything about it. And, frankly, I think it might be counterproductive for the federal courts to intervene at this time.

We live in a time where many people are extremely suspicious of the motives, and even the very legitimacy, of the federal government. So, if the federal courts were to intervene, there’s a chance that Arizona officials could simply refuse to comply with whatever the court orders, regardless of the order’s legal merits. This would leave the federal government with an incredibly unpleasant decision: give the government of a state a pass on obeying the law, or taking more forceful measures to enforce a court order.

Given the current political climate, nobody wants that.

Ultimately, I hope that our country moves past this nativist, xenophobic phase we’re going through. It seems that we go through a phase like this every few decades, and they usually coincide with economic hardship and/or social unrest. And they eventually pass.

Hopefully, what we’re seeing now is also just a phase. Of course, I should note that the concerns that these laws, and others like them, mean to address are not entirely imaginary. Illegal immigration is a real issue, and we need a sane policy to deal with it. Personally, I think that the solution to illegal immigration, to the extent one exists, is to simplify the entire immigration process, and to make it easier to come into this country legally.

I hope, in the long run, that cooler heads will prevail on the issue of immigration.

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Arizona’s Religious Freedom Law Has Hidden Agenda

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Oh, Arizona. Will you ever stop making my job so easy? Never change (as long as I don’t have to move to you).

Arizona has passed a law which, on its face, actually seems pretty progressive – appearing to be a major expansion of religious freedom. Basically, it creates an absolute exemption from professional licensing and discipline rules, if a violation of the rules was motivated by religion.

This is basically an amendment to Arizona’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This federal law essentially requires federal courts to examine any law which burdens a person’s ability to freely exercise their religion under “strict scrutiny” – meaning that, for a law that interferes with a religious practice to be valid, it must be shown that the law advanced a compelling government interest, and that it is narrowly tailored to that end.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been primarily used to protect the religious practices of Native Americans. For example, some tribes have used the law to carve out an exception to the federal law against the use of peyote, which has been used in the religious rites of some tribes for thousands of years. And I know I’m painting with a broad brush here, but these types of exemptions tend to be fairly popular with those who find themselves a bit to the left on the political spectrum, and perhaps also to certain “conservative” factions, like libertarians.

Arizona, however, is not known for its liberal tradition. And many of its policies, while very conservative, could be considered anything but libertarian. I wonder if anyone has told the Arizona Legislature that this law, as written, would also apply to Muslims. Zing! Anyway, this appears to be yet another play to the conservative base in Arizona.

So, what’s the deal with this law? Well, it appears that its purpose is to make it easier for doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and other professionals, to refuse to provide their services when doing so would violate their religious views. This includes doctors refusing to perform abortions, or refer a patient to a doctor who will, pharmacists refusing to prescribe “the pill” or other forms of birth control. It might also extend to lawyers refusing to represent LGBT clients, without any fear of facing discipline from the relevant state licensing authority.

The sponsors of the legislation cite a proposed rule by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which would require doctors who oppose abortion, and refuse to perform one, to refer the patient to a doctor who will.

Over the last few years, a controversy (as part of the broader “culture war”) has been brewing: to what extent should doctors, and professionals who provide essential services, be allowed to refuse their services based on their personal beliefs?

I don’t know if there’s an easy answer to this. After all, when you become a doctor, a lawyer, or a pharmacist, your right to freely exercise your religion doesn’t suddenly disappear. And it’s well accepted that, on occasions, religious exemptions to generally-applicable laws are warranted, but it’s rare that the exemptions are as absolute as the ones contained in the Arizona law.

But a state has an interest in making sure that everyone has access to essential services like medical care and legal representation, especially when it regulates those professions, ostensibly for the public good. As usual, the state has to strike a delicate balancing act.

But, once again, Arizona doesn’t seem to be very interested in balancing the religious hang-ups of individual doctors and lawyers against the public good. Instead, this seems like a pretty blatant attempt to appease a political base of social conservatives, coming down firmly on the side of protecting a professional’s “right” to engage in discrimination, over the public’s right to have access to essential services.

Interestingly, depending on how this law is applied, it might run afoul of another clause in the First Amendment. Ironically, an attempt to protect the right of a particular group of people to practice their religion, especially when it creates exceptions to generally-applicable laws, can actually run afoul of that other provision of the Constitution dealing with religious freedom: the Establishment Clause.

I should clarify. There are two distinct clauses in the 1st Amendment that deal with religion. They are the free exercise clause, and the establishment clause. It reads, in relevant part: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The free exercise clause is pretty clear in its meaning: everyone is free to exercise their religion in the U.S.

The meaning of the establishment clause isn’t as self-evident, however. It basically means that the government cannot adopt (or “establish”) an official state religion. This has been read to mean that the government cannot enact laws that substantially favor one religion over another. If this law is applied in a way that clearly favors Christians (or any other religious group), it could be held unconstitutional, as applied.

However, it’s written so broadly that, depending on the preferences of those in power in Arizona, it could just as easily be applied in a perfectly reasonable and constitutional manner.

Time will tell.

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Arizona Again Passes a Law to Ban Something That Nobody Does

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It seems that Arizona is determined to make a name for itself as the state that passes the most laws based on right-wing radio talking points.

The Arizona legislature has passed, and Governor Brewer is prepared to sign, a law that outlaws abortion if it’s motivated by the race or sex of the child, despite the fact that there’s virtually no evidence that this is actually a problem in Arizona, or anywhere else in the United States.

The new crop of “limited government” conservatives dominating the contemporary GOP seems to adhere to the philosophy of “the government should let you do whatever you want (as long as you get paid for it).”

I’m about as pro-choice as they come, but I could sort of see the need for a law of this nature, if there were a shred of evidence that abortions based on the race or sex of the fetus actually occurred in the U.S. with any frequency. Furthermore, because abortion is a constitutional right (with significant limitations) under Roe v. Wade, it’s presumably legal to get an abortion in Arizona, or anywhere else, for any other reason, or no reason at all.

Since Roe, states have tried to enact significant restrictions on abortion rights, and some of them have withstood constitutional scrutiny. Even if this one eventually were held constitutional, it would be very difficult to prove that race or gender was a motivating factor behind a woman’s choice to have an abortion.

In fact, given the burden of proof required in a criminal trial, I find it hard to believe that anyone could ever be convicted under this law. After all, we can’t read minds, and, in theory, a woman who has an abortion in Arizona could give any reason, and not be breaking the law (presuming she followed the other laws related to abortion, which typically dictate when and how an abortion can be performed, but not why), including “I just felt like it.”

I doubt that the people who wrote this law are under any illusions that anybody will actually be convicted under it, meaning that it’s unlikely to actually prevent any abortions from occurring. This law was likely passed to make a political point.

What that point is, I’m not so sure. Is it that having an abortion based solely on the race or sex of the fetus is a bad thing? I doubt many people disagree with that. Or maybe they’re using it to back up their claim that everyone who favors abortion rights secretly wants to use abortion as some type of eugenics/ethnic cleansing scheme? I honestly have no idea.

This law is obviously some kind of political stunt, given that it would be nearly impossible to enforce, but I really have no clue what this stunt is meant to accomplish. Maybe it’s some really bizarre effort for the GOP to attract minority voters. Or maybe it’s simply an attempt to appease a socially-conservative voter base.

Whatever the case, if any attempt to enforce this law is made, it seems quite likely that it would disproportionately affect minority women. And this is unfortunate, given the fact that most minority populations have disproportionately-high poverty rates. Attempting to enforce this law would likely force at least some poor, single mothers, who see abortion as the only option, to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. This will result in more children brought into the world and raised in abject poverty, thus continuing the cycle.

Perhaps politicians should shift their focus: instead of legislating against imaginary horrors like race-based abortion, they should look at the conditions that cause higher abortion rates in minority populations (poverty), and actually try and do something about it.

Yeah, I’m not holding my breath, either.

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Birthright Citizenship Facts and Myths

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Arizona is at it again.  The Copper State is making headlines yet another time with another controversial immigration issue of Grand Canyon-like proportions.  This time it’s major- the state’s legislatures are now challenging the issue of birthright citizenship.

Birthright citizenship is the idea that a child born in the United States is automatically granted U.S. citizenship, regardless of the citizenship status of the parents.  Historically, birthright citizenship has been guaranteed under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution at Section 1.

Now, over in Arizona new legislation has been proposed targeting the validity of birthright citizenship.  Arizona legislators John Kavanaugh and Russell Pearce have introduced a bill that would limit birthright citizenship only to those children born to at least one U.S. citizen or legal immigrant.  They have also proposed a compact that would require separate birth certificates for children born to illegal immigrant parents.  A vote on the bill is scheduled for sometime mid-February.

As expected, this new legislation opens up a whole ‘nother immigration issue that is sure to be debated all year.  Before you delve headlong into the debate, here are some immigration and birthright citizenship myths to consider for your information:

Myth: “Anchor babies” allow their parents to automatically become U.S. Citizens.

False.  Anchor baby is the (generally derogatory) term used to describe children of illegal immigrants who are born in the U.S. and therefore eligible for birthright citizenship.  The idea is that if a couple has a baby in the U.S., the child allows the family to “anchor” itself in the country through petitioning, etc.

But the fact is having an “anchor baby” will not prevent deportation of the parents, nor will it guarantee their citizenship.  The citizen child would not be able to file for their parents’ petition until they reach age 21.  Even then, the citizen must be at least 125% over the poverty threshold to apply, and their parents may already be facing a ban on returning to the U.S. due to their previous illegal status.

Myth: Birthright citizenship began in the U.S. as a way to grant citizenship to freed slaves

Part true, part false- yes, a closer look at the 14th Amendment may suggest that the citizenship language was intended to apply only to freed slaves and not the children of immigrants.  In fact, this is probably the hottest sub-topic in the birthright citizenship debate.  On the other hand, our trickily-worded statement above is partially false because birthright citizenship did not begin in the U.S.

The concept of birthright citizenship has been around probably for as long as there have been nations.  Birthright citizenship comes in two flavors: jus sanguinis (by blood) and jus soli (by place).  The first grants the birthright only if one or both of the parents are citizens of the country.  Switzerland and Germany are examples of countries that currently exercise jus sanguinis.

The second type, jus soli, grants citizenship based on where the child is born, regardless of the parent’s status.  This is the kind that America exercises.  To me, there is a basic reason why America chose to institute jus soli birthright citizenship rather than jus sanguinis.  From the beginning America was built on immigrant communities, and how could the first waves of Americans obtain citizenship if their parents were not citizens?  But many feel that the focus on geography is no longer applicable; hence, the current reform proposes a shift from jus soli citizenship to jus sanguinis.

Myth: Arizona has the highest percentage of illegal immigrants in the country

False- actually, Nevada has the highest proportion of illegal immigrants.  In 2010, Nevada had a percentage of 8.7%, while Arizona’s was 7.9%.  So why aren’t we hearing more about Nevada on the immigration front?  Beats me.  I suspect it’s because Nevada’s economy may be faring better than Arizona’s due to extra revenue from all the Pacquiao fights.  And Nevada might not be as dependent on illegal immigrant labor, at least not as openly, that is.

Myth: Changing the Constitution is a simple process

Probably false- It should be easy to amend an amendment, right?  I doubt it.  The 14th Amendment has become firmly rooted in our judicial system.  I’m sure that this present constitutional challenge will be met from all angles with much, much resistance.  Birthright citizenship will be defended tooth and nail if it reaches the Supreme Court (which it may due to the issue of pre-emption- citizenship is a federal issue).

And another thing- the idea of having two separate birth certificates could be very difficult to actually implement.  It would result in additional administrative costs, and would require everyone thereafter to prove that they are a citizen.  Not an easy task.


Personally speaking, one problem I do see with the argument against birthright citizenship is the issue of implementation.  So let’s say the movement to change the Constitution is successful.  Then what happens?  Children born to non-citizens will not be U.S. citizens.  Then what will their citizenship status be?  Will they be illegal aliens as well?  Effectively speaking, they will not be citizens of any country at all, unless they are citizens of another country based on jus sanguinis requirements.  And then what?  Will our country the institute a mass deportation of infants?

At any rate, Arizona needs to be very careful and thoughtful here.  It seems like with every move they make, other states follow suit.  The state is a literal trendsetter when it comes to immigration policies- at least 14 states are already contemplating similar birthright citizenship laws.  They may be thinking, hey, if Arizona is doing it, we can “jus” do it, too.

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