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Gracias, Arizona!

by Miguel Perez

For exposing the racial profiling and ethnic discrimination promoted by right-wing extremists, for making comprehensive immigration reform possible much sooner than anyone expected, for uniting the Latino community and other ethnic minorities like never before, for striking the final blow that would ignite a new civil rights movement, we should be grateful to Arizona.

Had it not been for the racist and unconstitutional Arizona law intended to crack down (starting in August) on undocumented immigrants - yet poised to violate the civil rights of legal residents and American citizens - immigration reform still would be a back burner issue in Washington.

As the slogan "Sí, Se Puede/Yes, We Can" was becoming less believable, Arizona gave us new reason to believe! Eventually, this measure will be rejected by the courts. It never will become law. But it will keep immigration on the front burner!

Granted, among undocumented immigrants, this measure is causing panic and hardship. Some already are fleeing Arizona and seeking refuge in other parts of the United States. And for us legal Latino residents and naturalized American citizens, Arizona has been painful and humiliating. It's hard to accept the fact that many of our fellow Americans see us with such disdain that they would let Arizona violate our basic rights as American citizens and legal residents.

Yet so many other people are speaking out now. So many other Americans are saying they are sick and tired of the xenophobic hatemongers. So many new immigrant rights activists are coming out of the woodwork. Thanks to Arizona, the tide is turning.

Across the country, immigrants and those who support them are pledging to boycott Arizona and to punish all politicians who support similar anti-immigrant measures. Many celebrities who were silent on this issue are now condemning the mean-spirited ways of politicians and media personalities who practice race-baiting.

The bigots on the blogosphere - a loud minority that came across as a majority - now are being challenged by the true majority of Americans, who still value our tradition as a compassionate nation of immigrants. Thanks to Arizona, every ignorant and racist statement is being rebutted and ridiculed by people who know better.

The Arizona boycott - spontaneous, without initial coordination, born out of outrage - is a genuine grass-roots movement against a state and political party that deserve to be taught a lesson.

The Republican-driven Arizona law has been condemned as racist and discriminatory, even by many police officials in Arizona and throughout the country. And the chorus of hundreds of organizations and community activists who are pleading for justice is getting louder and louder.

From Shakira to Gloria Estefan to various prominent Latino baseball players, many celebrities are speaking out like never before about the injustices committed against other immigrants, and they are getting a lot of attention.

There is even a website on which petitioners are vowing "not to spend ... vacation dollars in that state, whether that be by not engaging in tourism in Arizona, by not doing business within the state, or by not buying anything that comes from Arizona ... until such a time that this law is overturned or ruled unconstitutional."

And some African-American leaders - seeing the similarities to their own civil rights movement, identifying with the Latino potential victims of racial profiling and remembering that it took another boycott to get Arizona to agree to celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday - also are coming out in support of the boycott.

After the Major League Baseball Players Association condemned the Arizona law, Karen Russell, the daughter of NBA legend and civil rights champion Bill Russell, wrote an article calling on the NFL, NHL and NBA unions to do the same. She noted that when Arizona refused to celebrate King's birthday, "the NFL pulled the Super Bowl." She added, "It's time to boycott Arizona again and pull the MLB All-Star game from Phoenix next year."

For pro-immigrant activists, these are wonderful fighting words from unexpected allies, support created for them by the xenophobes in Arizona.

But it's the people who are fueling this new movement, not the so-called leaders who promised to deliver immigration reform.

You would think that President Barack Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress would see the Republican-driven Arizona law as an opportunity to grab a fumble and run in the other direction.

Yet instead of seeing a dropped football and an opportunity to score a huge touchdown for Latinos and other immigrants, the Democrats only see a hot potato - and even now they seem unwilling to touch it. Because they see that immigrants are now even less likely to vote for Republicans, Democrats apparently still believe they can save their political capital to invest on other topics and expect to get the Hispanic vote by default.

They are wrong! This time, they will have no other choice but to pay their dues to the immigrant community. At the May 1 pro-immigrant rallies in some 70 cities across the country, protesters seemed to be as angry with the Democrats who betray them as they are with the Republicans who bash them.

Thanks to Arizona Republicans, Democrats will be forced to speak more forcefully and to deliver on their promises to reform immigration. It may not happen this year - the ball will not really get rolling until after the midterm elections - but it will be sooner than expected, certainly before Obama seeks re-election, and it will be thanks to the civil rights movement ignited by the bigots in Arizona.

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