The scapegoating of immigrants must stop. Whether it's Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., blaming the wildfires in the Southwest on immigrants coming across the border or whether it's the state of Alabama passing the harshest anti-immigrant law in the country, it's clear that brown-skinned immigrants have become the targets of the day.
We've moved from the era of Jim Crow -- with legalized, racial segregation against blacks -- to the era of what I call Juan Crow, with legalized, racial discrimination against Latinos.
McCain said there was "substantial evidence that some of these fires have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally." But he didn't provide that evidence, and police have not arrested anyone yet, so his comment was reckless and irresponsible. McCain's remark is in keeping with the xenophobic legislation that has become law in such states as Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Utah.
And now Alabama has topped them all after Gov. Robert Bentley signed HB 56 into law on June 9. That law invites racial profiling against Latinos, both permanent residents and citizens, since the law requires that police officers inquire into the citizenship status of an individual (most likely brown-skinned) if the officers have "reasonable suspicion" that the person is not here legally.
In addition to making police officers immigration agents, HB 56 also transforms teachers into immigration agents by requiring them to check the citizenship status of all K-12 children. Landlords also will be conscripted as immigration agents, since the law makes them legally liable for renting to someone without proper citizenship documentation.
Under the new Alabama law, a U.S. citizen can be arrested for "harboring" an undocumented immigrant by simply having someone without legal status in his or her home for a family gathering. In addition, an elderly person can easily run afoul of the law by hiring a day laborer on the corner to help with moving furniture or performing yard work, since the law prohibits any employment of undocumented immigrants in the state.
This law, like the ones in other states, runs counter to the Christian principles of "love thy neighbor" and "treat others as you wish to be treated." While it's understandable that most Americans are feeling frustrated and frightened in this Great Recession, it's not acceptable for many of them to scapegoat the most vulnerable in this country: undocumented immigrants. These individuals come to this country to work hard and make an honest living for themselves and families, like the previous millions of Europeans that settled in this country during time of war and economic upheaval in their own homelands.
Just as the era of Jim Crow came to be known as a moral failing on the part of those who constructed it and benefited from it, so too will this era of Juan Crow.
Alvaro Huerta is a visiting scholar at UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center.