Tucson Shooting Reshapes Explosive Immigration Debate

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 for 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.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. 

Photo credit: Daquella manera via flickr
by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger


LMj Sunshine

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you.

Past Member 6 years ago

well...this is really some nice speculation...but that's about it...until we actually have an investigation and find some facts about the assailant...then we really don't know the cause...but so nice that the author was able to get an article together so quickly......let's wait and get all our facts first and stop jumping to conclusions.....

Jaime Torquemada
Jaime Torquemada6 years ago

Let us find the positive and solve the problem, we can have a debate without belittling the opposition, remember we are passengers in this earth and our lives mean nothing in the content of history, much less in the life span of the Planet.
Mother Nature can take us all away regardless what side of the border we live.

Jade H.
Jade H6 years ago

Seeing the rhetoric here in these posts I can only be grateful the shooter's surname WASN'T HISPANIC! LOL The way this country treats mental health issues in this country is an abomination, and perhaps this will make a ripple in that pond. But when I think of the backlash that would have occurred had the guy's last name been Sanchez, Ramirez, or Gomez (!) I doubt we would have survived! We're all just hating our brothers and sisters - and the sooner we figure out that we're all in this together on the same little blue and green planet (that ALL of us are destroying), the better chance we have of humans still BEING here in the future! Get a grip!!!

Suzen R.
Suzen R6 years ago

What does this have to do with the immigration issue? This is really stretching an issue to make a connection. I know some bloggers are practicing writing and often have to set up a goal to write a certain amount of words each day...Catherine A. Traywick was being creative so as to make her goal for the day.

Charlene R.
Charlene Rush6 years ago

AND, to think it wasn't an immigrant who pulled the trigger.

Jan N.
Jan N6 years ago

The shooting didn't reshape or shape anything. It was a random event perpetrated by a disturbed individual. I understand the desire to have it mean something, but it doesn't. The immigration "debate" is at an impasse.

Antony T.
Antony T.6 years ago

The matter of globalisation is one factor in this, but think about the cohort of American workers who have seen their standards of income, fall off a cliff, as a result of illegal immigration, this has exactly the same effect as globalisation, but in a smaller geographical area. seems that those "who have", will prosper, and those who "have not", will suffer, It removes the right of workers to say "we are worth more and if you need us, you will have to pay the going rate" This happens at the top, all the time, Bankers, Doctors, Politicians, etc, all argue that if you want "the best" you have to pay a better wage to get it, why are they so delighted to see this principle apply to them, but allow it to be removed as a result of illegal immigration, from those lower down the socio-economic scales ?

Seems to me, that the "haves" are just like Henry Ford, They want all they can get, and want it at the expense of those who have little, or no, negotiating leverage. Surely this means capitalism as seen in America, is a lie, and only for those who already have, and they are pulling the ladder up, after them, especially when they hire these people to work for them, to save a few cents on American wages. So called "trickle down" economics, does not work under these circumstances, wealth does not flow, from those who have, down to the lowest of the low. In any real sense at all, it flows upwards, and is denied to those who are owned by businesses they work for. Economic slavery