The uniformed man handed him a ticket. Miguel Gomes lowered his sight to read it and coyly asked, “For not speaking English well, sir?” – with the hope that the police officer would not retaliate with something else.
The eyes of the English class students listening to Miguel’s story in Southwest Detroit opened wide and their mouths dropped with expressions of disbelief. Women and men from Mexico, Iraq, Nigeria and Bangladesh striving for better language command in their new home country realized one more threat they have to bear while driving or just being present in public places.
The giveaway is their looks and their accent. “We will never be American enough!” the Middle Eastern woman said with a sigh of discouragement.
The recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold one of the sections of Arizona’s 2010 immigration law known as “show me your papers” has been denounced by civil right and immigrant advocates as an incomplete victory for American democracy.
It is good news that the court still has some justices who are not using their bench for political advocacy of their right wing views. But the narrow victory signals reason to step up strategies and actions for the protection of rights not only of immigrants but any other group that may be subject to discrimination.
The provision upheld by the Justices naively forgot the history of abuse of power often permeating police forces in this country. This section requires officers to check the immigration status of anyone they stop or detain if the officer has a suspicion that the person may be in the country illegally.
Miguel Gomes’s ticket for the “violation” of not speaking English well was dismissed by the Detroit traffic court. But the message remained clear in this immigrant community.
Mr. Gomes was stopped because he was brown, and he looked Latino. When he produced his green card, the officer still gave him a ticket to remind him that he didn’t belong. And these students of English understood that America is still a home where their basic rights can be violated.
The provision upheld by the Justices naively forgot the history of discrimination and harassment experienced by people of color in this country, a history being repeated today.
Let’s not forget Trayvon Martin. This young man was a victim of racial profiling in Florida and lost his life by an empowered vigilante who believed the 2005 Stand your Ground law was on his side. Data show that “justifiable” homicides have increased by 50 percent in states with these lethal new laws. The laws legally arm individuals, whether they are found in law enforcement entities or in our own neighborhoods, with the mindset, force and weapons to discriminate, harass, and even kill.
The growing xenophobia in recent years in Arizona and other American cities, including Detroit, is not affecting immigrants only. They are the new scapegoat in a society that continues its struggle to live the Christian ideals of love and compassion for the vulnerable.
But they are not the only ones that are easy to prey on. Trayvon was not an immigrant. We all should be worried about our civil rights.
photo credit: Fibonacci Blue