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George Zimmerman Trial and the Battle Over Immigration Reform: Is There a Connection?

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By Roger Algase

This is a blog about immigration law, not the law of homicide, and I will accordingly make no comment about the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, son of a Peruvian immigrant mother, for the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American young man. However, almost everyone agrees that the nationwide reaction to the killing and subsequent not guilty verdict touched America's raw nerve of race.

In the words of POLITICO'S chief political columnist, Roger Simon: George Zimmerman trial all about race (July 16):

"Anuone who thinks the stalking of Trayvon Martin and the trial of his killer, George Zimmerman, was not about race is kidding himself...

Race is the most undiscussed issue in America today."

dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=08792AB5-D9C0-4471-BA75-B9BFAF706C2C

In a similar vein, the title of playwright Janet Cohen's July 16 column in the Washington Post says it all: After Zimmerman verdict, Obama needs to speak about racism.

www.washingtonpost.com//opinion/after-zimmmerman-verdict-obama-needs-to-speak-about-racism/2013/07/16/a3b48432-ee28-11e2-9008-61e94a7ea20d_print.html

If we are to be honest with ourselves as a nation, we also have to admit that race is central to the debate over immigration reform.

It would be nice to think that immigration reform is only about boosting the economy, increasing the tax base by legalizing unauthorized immigrants, providing more needed skilled and unskilled workers, promoting family reunification, streamlining legal immigration and many other similar worthy and extremely important goals.

But this ignores the racial elephant in the room.

To give only one example from the trial, almost everyone agrees that the series of events which ultimately led to the killing of Trayvon Martin began with racial profiling. This means that the same racial profiling which initially set the stage for Trayvon Martin's death was also at the heart of the controversy over Arizona's draconian anti-immigrant law, S.B. 1070, the subject of last year's Supreme Court decision in Arizona vs. US, 567 US__(2012).

Racial profiling is also the central issue in similar laws in Alabama and other states.

But racial profiling is by no means the only issue occupying our courts in which race is the critical, if not the only, factor. No issue is more closely connected with immigrant rights than minority voting rights, as the 2012 election taught the entire country (except, evidently, for Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, and a few other right wing zealots).

But for all too many Americans, voting by white American citizens is known as democracy, while voting by American citizens of color is called "racial entitlements", to use Justice Scalia's infamous phrase during oral argument in this year's voting rights case, Shelby County vs. Holder, 570 US__(2013).

Of course, anti-immigrant racism, and its companion, racism against Latino and other minority US citizens, go far beyond racial profiling and voter suppression. Racism also describes the constant barrage of hate directed against Latinos and other non-white immigrants and American citizens on right wing talk radio, cable TV and Internet sites, with all the attempts to stigmatize them as criminals, welfare-takers and, most reprehensible of all, intellectually inferior by birth.

An excellent and comprehensive study of institutional racism affecting all aspects of life for a specific minority population, low income Latinos in the South, was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in April 2009 with the title: Under Siege. This report is well worth reading for anyone who wishes to understand what is really behind the current battle over immigration reform in the House of Representatives today.

The full report is available at www.splcenter.org

Unless we squarely face the issue of anti-immigrant racism, and, beyond it, the broader anti-minority racism which has long been part of our nation's history, the outlook for ultimate passage of immigration reform in Congress this year will remain cloudy at best.

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Updated 07-17-2013 at 01:57 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs

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