Thursday, March 13, 2008

Arkansas says, Latinos Go Home!

When it comes to undocumented immigrants in the United States, the federal government’s position is murky at best. This may be why many states are choosing to take matters into their own hands. If you’re Adriana Torres-Flores, a thirty-eight year old, undocumented Mexican immigrant, you many be re-thinking “The Land of Opportunity". That unfortunately may be what Arkansas wants. Torres-Flores, a mother of three who has been in the US for nearly two decades, was arrested for selling pirate DVD’s and placed in a temporary holding cell this past Thursday (March 6th). The mother was then apparently forgotten for four days. She had no water or food and had to drink her own urine.

Arkansas officials call it a simple oversight on the part of the bailiff and have suspended him for thirty days. However, if you check Arkansas’ history with Latinos, you may draw a different conclusion. In states like Arkansas, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, Latino populations quadrupled from 1990-2000. In fact Arkansas has one of the fastest growing populations of Latinos with counts of over 140,000 according to the 2006 U.S. Census. Although Latinos recently spent over 2 billion dollars in the state, according to a study funded by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (conducted by Urban Institute), and own more that 2,000 businesses there, Arkansas isn’t happy with their presence.

Elected Representatives Rick Greem, Jon Woods and Senators Ruth Whitaker and Jim Holt have all attempted to have legislation passed to stop undocumented Latino immigrant’s access to state benefits, as well as fining businesses and/or state agencies that contract with businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers. Basically, these elected officials are playing on the old and bigoted fear that jobs and state resources will be taken from American citizens. But the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation’s study, done in 2007, found that just the opposite is true. It turns out that these undocumented Latino Immigrants contribute more to the state than they cost it and if Arkansas deported them their manufacturing output would drop by 1.4 billion dollars.

So although the good seems to outweigh the bad and Arkansas has benefited economically from these workers their contributions don’t seem to matter. And Arkansas is not the only state that feels that way at least 30 states since 2006 have passed laws or increased their crackdown on undocumented workers. But doesn’t all of this sound like American history? Ignore the contributions of the “others” at all cost even when we can point to a direct correlation between the country’s economic gains (read: power) and the disenfranchisement and subjugation of said “others.” The reality is we’re talking about human beings, not pet rocks and sea monkeys. There are over 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country and simultaneously denying their contributions and their human rights will not make them disappear. I don’t believe Adriana Torres-Flores was forgotten in that cell for four days and neither are any of the other undocumented immigrants here. They are audaciously considered by the states they live in as expendable, cheap labor. Some might call this slavery.

-Adisa Vera Beatty

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