Tucson Shooting Reshapes Explosive Immigration Debate


This article is published in partnership with The Media Consortium, of which RH Reality Check is a member organization.

The Tucson shooting that left Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) critically wounded and 6 others dead last Saturday wasn’t explicitly motivated by Arizona’s polemical stance on immigration. Nevertheless, the tragedy bears a number of weighty implications for immigration issues both in Arizona and across the nation.

Contextualizing political violence

Pima county sheriff Clarence Dupnik was among the first to discuss the shooting within the context of Arizona’s heated immigration battles. In several television appearances, he characterized the tragedy as a product of hatred and intolerance, telling reporters during one press conference that Arizona has “become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” Many on the right, including Senator Jon Kyl, were quick to admonish Dupkin for needlessly politicizing a national tragedy.

But, as Care2’s Jessica Pieklo argues, the sheriff’s contentiously moderate stance on immigration makes him uniquely positioned “to shine a critical light on the fevered political rhetoric that has enveloped his state and this country.” While Dupnik has spoken out against Arizona’s SB 1070, engendering the goodwill of immigrant rights advcoates, he has also argued that schools should check the immigration statuses of students, a position endorsed by the anti-immigrant right. Given his varied stance on the issues, it’s difficult to dismiss his characterization of the tragedy as some kind of party-line pandering. Rather, his statement seems an objective assessment of Arizona’s volatile political culture—made all the worse by increasingly fierce immigration debates.

And as Dupnik probably well knows, that volatile political culture has repeatedly coalesced into political violence over the past 20 years. Following the shooting, the immigrant rights group Alto Arizona produced an interactive timeline of Arizona’s long history of violence. As ColorLines’ Jamilah King notes, this troubling history has frequently centered on explosive immigration issues, from Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s lawlessness to murders committed by Arizona Minutemen.

Tragedy leaves gaps in immigration debate

The attack on Rep. Giffords, as well as her subsequent absence from Congress, raises a number of concerns about the direction of immigration policy in 2011. While some immigrant rights groups maligned her broad support of increased border enforcement, Giffords nevertheless stood out as one of few Arizona legislators who also broadly supported immigrant rights. John Rudolph at Feet in 2 Worlds points out that she represented an important border district, supported the DREAM Act, and opposed SB 1070. And as a result of the shooting, Rudolph argues, Giffords’ pivotal voice “has been sidelined at a time when moderate voices are desperately needed.”

Unfortunately, Giffords wasn’t the only shooting victim whose voice could have critically altered immigration politics in Arizona. Federal judge John Roll, who was killed during the shooting, had been overseeing the court case challenging Arizona’s recently enacted ethnic studies ban, HB 2281. The anti-immigrant measure, which specifically targets the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program, went into effect only days before Roll’s death—an unsettling coincidence, particularly as Roll’s judicial career has repeatedly landed him in the center of explosive immigration battles.

New America Media reports that Roll became a target of political violence as recently as 2009, when he allowed 16 undocumented Mexican immigrants to go forward with a $32 million lawsuit against a vigilante Arizona rancher with a reputation for rounding up immigrants. The case provoked such ire from conservatives (ranging from phone calls to death threats) that Roll and his wife required 24-hour protection from one month.

There’s no word yet on how the case against HB 2281 will proceed, or on the length of Rep. Giffords’ anticipated absence from Congress.

Shooting underscores Republican division

Meanwhile, mounting fear of Arizona’s violent political culture has crossed party lines—taking hold of state Republicans who fear that Tea Party extremists will target them for being too moderate. Four Republican politicians representing Arizona’s Legislative District 20 have resigned from office following the shooting on Saturday, Lauren Kelley reports at Alternet. The first to go, chairman Anthony Miller, said that he has faced “constant verbal attacks” from Tea Party members angry over Miller’s deciion to support Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) campaign over that of the avowedly anti-immigrant J.D. Hayworth. Soon after Miller announced his resignation, three other Republican officials followed suit: secretary Sophia Johnson, first vice chairman Roger Dickinson and district spokesman Jeff Kolb.

Their resignations highlight growing divisions within the Republican Party over the increasingly extremist positions of certain party leaders, especially in Arizona. Since state senator Russell Pearce and a cohort of other legislators introduced their birthright citizenship bill last week—which would deny citizenship to the U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrants—various elements of the Party have spoken out against the radical nature of the measure. Change.org’s Alex DiBranco reports that Somos Republicans, an organization representing a minority of Hispanic Republicans, are decrying party leaders’ use of the slur “anchor baby” as well as their “unholy alliance” with the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (FAIR), an anti-immigrant group. New America Media’s Valeria Fernández and Elena Shore similarly report that a contingent of conservative religious leaders have also come out in strong opposition of the measure, arguing that the bill defies “the teachings of Jesus Christ” and the “values of America.”

Clearly, while the Tucson tragedy silenced measured voices critical to Arizona’s immigration debates, it has also compelled many members of the right to reconsider the radical positions of their fellows—especially on the volatile issue of immigration.

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  • brittanicus

    REVEALED ABOUT ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION? JUDGE FOR YOURSELF.

    ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION IS NOT ABOUT RACE, BIGOTRY OR ANY DISCRIMINATION ON THIS SUFFOCATING ISSUE. PLAIN AND SIMPLE, IT’S ABOUT MONEY! MONEY OUR COUNTRY DOESN’T HAVE ANYMORE TO SUPPORT MILLIONS OF ILLEGAL FOREIGNERS.  IT’S ABOUT THE POLITICIANS PANDERING TO GET VOTES OR IMPORT CHEAP LABOR AND EXPLOIT THEM FOR BUSINESS OWNERS? WE NEED A MANDATED E-VERIFY PROGRAM, TO REDUCE ILLEGAL WORKERS. REMEMBER THIS INFORMATION  WILL NEVER BE REVEALED  BY  THE LEFT WING PRESS? THE OVERWHELMING LIBERAL MEDIA WILL NOT EVEN LET YOU COMMENT.

     1.  http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/05/local/la-me-illegal-welfare-20100906

    2. http://www.jpands.org/vol10no1/cosman.pdf   3.http://www.judicialwatch.org/blog/2009/apr/irs-gives-illegal-aliens-billions-refunds     4.http://www.cis.org/child-tax-credits
    5. http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2008-01-21-immigrant-healthcare_N.htm 6.http://www.newfrontiercoalition.com/Cost_of_illegal_aliens.pdf

    7.http://www.usillegalaliens.com/impacts_of_illegal_immigration_crime.html

    8.http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/05/17/immigration-costs-rising-rapidlty-new-study-says/ 9.http://www.thesocialcontract.com/artman2/publish/tsc0301/article_192.shtml

    Learn all there is to know about your share of illegal immigrant tax, cost, corruption, real numbers illegally settled here and the damage of overpopulation at http://www.numbersusa.com and http://www.judicialwatch.org. We need highly skilled workers for our nation, not the penniless or uneducated of foreign governments to support.

    STOPPING ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION IS NOT UP TO THE LAWS OF POLITICIANS. IT’ UP TO THE VOICES OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE?

    Join the Tea Party movement near you and reclaim your rights and halt once and for all illegal immigration. Phone 202-224-3121 which is the switchboard number for Washington; so that you can also contact your Congressional representative In addition contact your State representative in your State.

  • arekushieru

    A lot of ASSumptions about refugee claimants and a LOT more of unproven rhetoric.  The first sign of racism and bigotry IS pointing fingers at one group because they’re a visible minority, without recognizing your own complicity.  Of valuing money over lives (but, only in some circumstances, which is a hypocrisy that the Tea Party is well-known for.)

  • prochoiceferret

    ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION IS NOT ABOUT RACE, BIGOTRY OR ANY DISCRIMINATION ON THIS SUFFOCATING ISSUE. PLAIN AND SIMPLE, IT’S ABOUT MONEY!

     

    You mean, the money that undocumented immigrants contribute to our economy in productivity and tax witholdings? That’s a lot of millions of dollars!

     

    IT’S ABOUT THE POLITICIANS PANDERING TO GET VOTES OR IMPORT CHEAP LABOR AND EXPLOIT THEM FOR BUSINESS OWNERS?

     

    Damn those business owners… I’m sure you would never vote for a party that was on their side.

     

    Learn all there is to know about your share of illegal immigrant tax, cost, corruption, real numbers illegally settled here and the damage of overpopulation

     

    I take it you’re equally up in arms about those Quiverfull folks, to say nothing of Jon and Kate?

     

    We need highly skilled workers for our nation, not the penniless or uneducated of foreign governments to support.

     

    You want “highly skilled workers” to pick strawberries?

     

    STOPPING ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION IS NOT UP TO THE LAWS OF POLITICIANS. IT’ UP TO THE VOICES OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE?

     

    I suppose if the voices of the American people sounded like The Annoying Orange, quite a few people would be willing to emigrate, legally or not.

  • arekushieru

    …Wasaaaaabbbiii!

    Kind of back on-topic:  That IS very annoying, indeed.  I was trying to remember who Britannicus reminded me of.

  • cmarie

    the sheriff’s contentiously moderate stance on immigration makes him uniquely positioned “to shine a critical light on the fevered political rhetoric that has enveloped his state and this country.”

    Huh?  According to that logic, moderates are the only people level minded enough to comment on anything.  Think about it:  abortion, gun rights, unions, healthcare, the environment, foreign aid, the economy, the U.N.,  Iraq, Afghanistan, public welfare, corperate welfare, taxes….. a lot of people feel very strongly about all those issues and many more.  Some of these people are public figures and/or politicians.  Their strong feelings (whatever they are) do not make them any less qualified than Dupnik to comment on anything.   Also, I don’t think the “it’s Arizona’s fault” theory is really going too far.  I’m pretty sure this could have happened in any state.  The young man is severly, severly disturbed.

  • crowepps

    “moderate stance on immigration makes him uniquely positioned “to shine a critical light on the fevered political rhetoric that has enveloped his state and this country.”

     

    Huh?  According to that logic, moderates are the only people level minded enough to comment on anything.

    Well, no, because what it says, really SPECIFICIALLY, is that when everybody is all hysterical and impassioned and EXTREME on both ends of the issues, then the moderate person standing in the middle and able to see the points of view and agree with each side no SOME issues, who does not see everybody on ‘the other side’ as ‘enemies of the motherland and attempting to destroy democracy’ BECAUSE they agree with people on each side on some issues, get to comment on how the FEVERED RHETORIC is causing problems.

     

    Golly, cmarie, surely you don’t think that all that

    ‘YOU hate America’,

    ‘no, YOU’RE the one who hates America’,

    ‘no, YOU’,

    ‘no, YOU’

    is actually SOLVING anything, do you?

     

    I’m sure everybody is escaping from their drab and restrictive lives of just barely getting by and not mattering much by investing in the us-against-them, win-team-win, we’ve-got-signs-on-TV-so-we’re-important, extreme intolerance emotional catharsis that they could possibly want, but they aren’t actually SOLVING anything.

     

    Instead, they are preventing the solving of problems by insisting the solutions be perfect even though the perfect is out of reach and insisting on it prevents putting in place the good.

     

    Throwing loud, obnoxious public tantrums because one isn’t getting ones own way and one resents that nobody is paying attention may be very satisfying, but it doesn’t FIX anything.