Anyone who has read my commentary either at this site or (more often) at the sister weblog The South Chicagoan knows that I think Arizona state officials made a serious gaffe when they felt the need to take it upon themselves to have their local police act on the federal issue of immigration.
So this commentary is not meant to be a plea to the Cook County Board to pass a resolution that condemns Arizona, or says that the county should not do business with Arizona-based companies. It is not even a hope that the county rejects a resolution that praises Arizona for meddling in the issue.
I DO HOPE they do both of those things when they meet Tuesday, since the county board is expected to consider dueling resolutions that have been introduced on the issue.
But what I find interesting about this issue is how it shows how little official government protest has changed throughout the decades. If I were to change a few names and dates, the kind of rhetoric we’re going to hear would be very reminiscent of what was a key issue back when I was in college a quarter of a century ago.
Back then, the abhorent place was South Africa, which was still under the control of the government meant to ensure that the white minority maintained a solid control – keeping the overwhelming black population in check through the system of laws and restrictions known as apartheid.
Nelson Mandela wasn’t a former national president and Nobel Prize winner – he was a convict and prison inmate. I am old enough to remember when it was still considered respectable to think of Mandela as a subversive – if not an outright communist.
WHEN THAT SENTIMENT started to change in the mid-1980s, it became trendy for universities, businesses and governments to try to make a symbolic statement by pushing for divestiture from South Africa. That meant cutting off business ties with entities that were based there, and refusing to invest in companies that were supportive of the South African establishment.
Politically, I can remember the more progressive elements of society pushing eagerly for this kind of rhetoric, while the more conservative elements would claim that opposing South Africa was “un-American,” sort of.
Other people tried to argue against divestiture by claiming that it was not the place of the United States to be meddling in the ways of South Africa – regardless of what one might think of the old apartheid restrictions that limited black people in terms of where they could exist, and what they could do in society.
Now that it is becoming popular for government entities to want to make a statement about Arizona, it seems like the same tone of debate is rising up again.
WHICH IS WHY I am not going so far as to say what I think the vote will be on Tuesday, but I can already envision the debate that will be spewed in the county board chambers.
Now Cook County is not the first government entity to take a stance against Arizona. South suburban Calumet City approved a resolution last month that says city government officials will not attend conferences held in Arizona, nor will they enter into contracts with companies based primarily in that state.
Supporters of that city’s move argued that the non-white majority population of that municipality means they should take a stance against a state whose actions threaten to be hostile to the growing Latino population of this nation.
Critics say it is none of our business how Arizona decides to conduct business. If we don’t like it, that makes it a good thing that we do not live there.
SO WHEN THE county board debates the resolution that trashes Arizona, we’re going to hear debate pro- and con- on the merits of the growing Latino population. We’re going to hear how it is a personal insult to the 1.5 million people of Mexican ethnic background who live in the Chicago area (and, according to the Mexican consulate in Chicago, spend about $20 billion annually) if our government officials do not take a stance opposing Arizona.
When the debate shifts to the resolution praising the state, we’re going to hear a lot of talk about minding our own business. We’ll probably even hear a lot of “trash talk” about how bad things have become during the years (ending in December) of county board President Todd Stroger. The implication being, where does the Government of Stroger get off saying anything bad about anybody!
Ultimately, the county is likely to pass the resolution by county board member (and former Illinois State Police trooper) Edwin Reyes – the one that says the county should not be doing the $6 million in business with Arizona companies that it already has.
This is, after all, the county that has followed the lead of Chicago in declaring itself to be a “sanctuary” for people with immigration issues – meaning that local police won’t bring the issue up because it really does fall outside of their areas of knowledge and concern.