Sunday, May 02, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

My most profound understanding of life is the result of my experience in Vietnam. In that experience, I learned that war takes place in someone's home place, that the presence of armies, weapons and violence is an ever-present fact of daily existence which itself is tenuous and at the whim of others. The corollary to that lesson was that my home was not a place where I would be at risk of war's systemic and pervasive violence.

Although I no longer live there, Arizona is part of home for me. I know many fine people who live in Arizona. So when I see armed gangs shooting it out with police in Pinal County, killing ranchers in Cochise County and invading Tucson homes I feel a definite connection. A place I know well, where I have friends is now a place where residents can feel safe from violence. That is a real loss and a failure of elected officials to address a serious problem.

My last visit to southern Arizona was 2004 when I accompanied a friend on a birding expedition from Madera Canyon south of Tucson to the Chircahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona. On that trip we saw the abandoned immigrant camps, littered with debris(*), in the national forests. Seeing how closely immigration routes came to homes helped me understand how uneasy residents may feel. I saw, too, the watchtowers and aerial surveillance cameras. I passed through a Border Patrol check point. (We two middle aged white males were waived through with our verbal assurances of legality.) My strongest reaction was anger at the destruction to the land. I could understand how a family with longstanding ties to this place would be distressed that it was no longer safe.

Six years later the situation is far worse,with drug cartels violently challenging the national government for control of large swaths of the economy and territory. Violence spilling over the border is enough to convince people that any action is better than none, especially one that offers protection from Them. The Arizona Legislature at its most rational has always had a hard core element of reactionary craziness. In troubled times, their ideas will appeal to the somewhat more "moderate" members who basically share the reactionaries' core beliefs if not usually their means. The new legislation does not surprise at all.

Not surprising also is that it will have no effect. If America were truly serious about ending violence on the border and stemming the flood of economic refugees from Mexico, we would:

  • End the drug war and focus drug policy on education, treatment and remediation. Eliminate the profit and regulate the trade.
  • Change economic policies that eliminate opportunities for Latinos to live and prosper in their home countries.
  • Recognize that citizens of other nations are part of US economy by providing them with visas that allow them to work here and return to their homes without fear that they will be barred from future entry.
As always, the devil will be in the details but that's the direction I would go if I were in charge. These days, I wonder how many Americans would follow me. Some but not enough, I bet.

(*) Not unlike the footprint of our night defensive perimeters in Vietnam, I might add.

Randall Amster writes knowledgeably about this issue from Arizona at Truthout.

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What He Said pretty much what I said. He just says it better.