Arizona Immigration Law Blues

by Brad Asmus on April 29, 2010

I am the child of immigrants. My Dad’s grandfather slid into America after things went wrong for him in the Prussian Army, where he was a Colonel. My Mom’s people claim to have snuck over in the rowboat behind the Mayflower. (A cousin finds that they were actually indentured servants in that first wave of immigrants after the first colonies were barely founded).

I am the child of an American military family. We lived all over the world in a subculture that was remarkably diverse and open . I spent the last of my childhood and the whole of my adolescence in Hawaii. People talk about the melting pot of cultures, Hawaii is a bubbling wok of cultures.

I sometimes hire guys from the Home Depot parking lot to help me in my olive orchard. One guy who I’ve hired a bunch of times is from a family that has been in our area from the Spanish times. Another who was out recently spoke very little English and I supposed he was FOB. It turns out he’s third generation, and  a full-on citizen who had to go to work in the fields early, didn’t get much education, and didn’t really have a need to speak English at home or in his neighborhood. (He’s got a steady job working for a strawberry grower but he hustles pick-up work on the weekends because he’s got a daughter going to Stanford). So I’ve learned that you can’t tell who is legal and who isn’t just by the clothes they’re wearing or their shoes or where they hang out.

I worry that Arizona’s new laws giving police a free hand to stop “suspicious characters” and ask for their immigration papers will be used to harass people who look like the folks who work in our vineyards, orchards and wineries. I also worry that Arizona’s bad idea will spread to other states. I hope that folks in the wine industry take a stand against this bad solution to the real and complex issues of immigration and labor policy.