'Shop Talk': Debating The Immigration Law In Arizona

In this installment of our weekly Barbershop segment, host Michel Martin talks with freelance writer and author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, columnist Gustavo Arellano who writes the column "Ask A Mexican" for the OC Weekly and NPR's Political Editor Ken Rudin. They discuss the mounting tensions in Arizona surrounding the newly signed immigration law there, the showdown between lawmakers and investment firm Goldman Sachs during more than 11 hours of hearings on Capitol Hill, and the release of slain civil rights leader Malcolm X’ assassin after 45 years in prison.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in their chairs for a shapeup this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael,�syndicated columnist�Gustavo Arellano,�who writes� the column "Ask a Mexican" for the�OC Weekly,�civil rights attorney�Arsalan Iftikhar and NPR's�political editor Ken�Rudin. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas. Welcome to the shop, how are we doing?

Mr. GUSTAVO ARELLANO (Columnist, "Ask a Mexican," OC Weekly): Hey, hey, hey, very well.

KEN RUDIN: Hey, Jimi, show me your citizenship papers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I left them in my other wallet. Well, check this out, man, Arizona immigration...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Show us whether you're an earthling.

Mr. IZRAEL: See, here we go. Here we go. All right? You know what? The Arizona immigration law has been on the books just for a week now, but the tensions have really, really gotten intense now. The law won't go into effect until this summer, and there have been countless protests and calls for statewide boycotts already, Michel.

MARTIN: You know, the boycott idea has really picked up steam. The Arizona Republic reported earlier this week that the state Hotel and Lodging Association is so worried about it that they've created a Facebook page saying don't boycott Arizona tourism. Don't punish 200,000 tourism employees for politics.

And there have been two separate calls for boycotts of Major League Baseball, as well, and the - the first of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team, because organizers think the owner supports the immigration law. And the other argument is with the all-star game, which is set for next year out of Arizona. There are those who are saying that the all-star game shouldn't be played there. So, I don't know. It's a really interesting question. So...

Mr. IZRAEL: Gustavo, my man.

Mr. ARELLANO: Oh, my God.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what? Is organizing all of these boycotts of Arizona's tourism industry and the pro baseball team, is it the most effective way to get politicians in Arizona to pay attention?

Mr. ARELLANO: It's making them pay attention. It's making people take a stance. In fact, Arizona Diamondbacks owner, he said he's against the bill, SB 1070, even though his organization and his family have showered hundreds of thousands of dollars on these politicians who created this. And there was a protest outside Wrigley Field yesterday. Apparently, a couple hundred people showed up telling people, boycott the - you know, go in and enjoy your game, you know, see the Cubs lose, 'cause they always lose, darn it.

And it's - I think it's very effective. It's forcing Arizona to realize the folly of their actions, just like in the '90s when that state wouldn't recognize Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday as a state or even federal holiday, the NFL, they pulled out the Super Bowl. There was a boycott against businesses in Arizona then, and it worked.

I think something like this - who knows what the financial repercussions will be. But at the very least, people are paying attention to this, more than they would if there was no boycott whatsoever.

MARTIN: But, Jimi, can I ask Ken this, though? In a way, these people are kind of in a rock and a hard place because the polls show, don't they, that most Arizonans support the law.

RUDIN: That's the whole thing here, because unlike back - we were talking about the 1980s with Governor Mecham and the Martin Luther King holiday, that was Mecham being a racist and a nut. And as it turned out, he was impeached and removed from office. But this one, this bill, as draconian and severe as it sounds, seems to have the support of, like, 70 percent of the polls. Now, just because a popularity poll wants to repeal the, you know, the First Amendment and things like that, doesn't mean that's right.

But it's not unpopular in the state, so it's a very - it's a quandary between what the lawmakers had to do - and plus the fact, most importantly, I think we can blame and ridicule the Arizona lawmakers all we want, but had somebody in Washington during the Republican rule or now the Democratic rule have the guts to stand up and pass some kind of law, you wouldn't have states like Arizona taking the law in their own hands.

MARTIN: Let me give you some numbers, that 70 percent of Arizonans who were polled said they support the law. Nationally, that's 51 percent. So...

RUDIN: Wow.

MARTIN: Yeah. So I don't know, Jimi, what you think about that.

Mr. IZRAEL: A-train.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney): Yeah, well, you know, first of all, I'm reminded of the Public Enemy song "By the Time I Get to Arizona."

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. Bass.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I'm not going to Arizona anytime soon, 'cause I'm not showing my freedom papers to anyone. But, you know, what's important here is that, you know, it was only a matter of time before we saw lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of this law. And so far, we have - there are three lawsuits, two of which are from police officers in Phoenix and Tucson. The other one is by civil rights organizations like MALDEF, the ACLU and others challenging the validity and constitutionality of it.

And even Tom Tancredo, the former congressman, you know, who Jon Stewart said that Mexican parents tell their kids about to make them eat their vegetables...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...says that he was not in support of, you know, police officers just pulling people over randomly based on whether or not they believed they were in this country illegally. So when Tom Tancredo, you know, a right-wing former congressman is saying that a law has gone too far, you know that it probably has.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Yeah. I mean, I'd go for that. And nobody jump on me for saying this but, you know, I got to say I'm a really big fan of some of the reforms that Senator Harry Reid is quarterbacking. You know, like trying to tighten up the Social Security card by, you know, preventing, you know, counterfeits and all that kind of stuff and giving more tech to the ICE. But on the short term, you know, I don't like the reforms that we got going on at Arizona but I haven't heard anybody - I know what we don't like. So what do we do? You know, drug violence is spilling over the border. What happens? Now in the short term, what do we do, Gustavo?

Mr. ARELLANO: Well, okay, that's two separate issues, illegal immigration versus drugs. Go after the drug cartels. You know, everybody lionizes, in Arizona, Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio for his tough on - supposed tough on crime stance. But, in fact, the city is - Maricopa County is lawless because of his ineffectuality. Why isn't he going after the drug cartels? Why isn't he going after those kidnappers? Why do they make this big deal about the illegal immigrants, many of those who are being victimized by those people?

I'm all for cracking down on the drug cartels but this does nothing at all. The governor of Arizona might be saying her state is in a state of chaos and therefore, that's why they need to do this, but they're not going after drug cartels. How is this going after the drug cartels? It's absolutely foolish.

MARTIN: Can I ask Ken to pick up on something that you said earlier? I'm just curious where the anger on this is directed, because now that the Democrats for the moment, you know, control the Congress and they hold the White House, the argument says it's at their door. But you've also pointed out that they were 10 years, I mean this goes back over the Clinton administration, the Bush administration and inaction on immigration reforms. I'm curious like where is it directed now? Who's everybody mad at around this?

RUDIN: Well, I still think that ultimately they're mad at Washington because they haven't gotten their job done. And, you know, in fairness, there are some people once upon a time there where people in the Republican Party like John McCain, who really believed that the answer to this was ultimate legalization and citizenship for the 12 million people who are here undocumented. But unfortunately, because of what's happened to the Republican Party, because John McCain is involved in this really serious challenge to his re-nomination in the August primary, now John McCain has endorsed this bill when his whole career was standing up against kind of rhetoric and demagoguery like this.

MARTIN: You know, it is worth mentioning that the last time immigration reform or amnesty - it was, in fact, amnesty - was passed was under Ronald Reagan. But, you know, John McCain has said that the frustration at the local level is such that people just have to live with it. And I will be very curious to see what happens in the elections to see whether he survives this because nobody's happy with him right now.

Arsalan, you were going to say something?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah. I mean not only has he, you know, flip-flopped completely on his immigration platform but, you know, he has, you know, said things like, you know, illegal immigrants cause more car accidents in Arizona.

RUDIN: No, they deliberately cause.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

RUDIN: They deliberately have car accidents.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And, you know, so to...

MARTIN: He said that?

RUDIN: McCain.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, McCain said that.

MARTIN: Why? Why?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, then he's, you know, now...

Mr. ARELLANO: Because he's trying to win reelection.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. He's...

MARTIN: But I don't understand. Why would people deliberately - I just don't get it this. I don't get it.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: He's just pandering to the politics of fear. He's veering so hard right because of J.D. Hayworth's, you know, clownish platforms that, you know, he's trying to, you know, keep his seat. And he has pandered to the lowest common denominator.

MARTIN: Can I just ask, though, one quick question, Gustavo, and forgive me. I'm not trying to make you the, you know, the...

Mr. ARELLANO: Get the Mexican, of course. Just ask the Mexican.

MARTIN: Yeah. Thank you. But it is "Ask the Mexican," so I'm asking the Mexican.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And is...

Mr. ARELLANO: And I'm the one who supposedly looks most illegal in Arizona right now.

MARTIN: Well, I don't know what that means, but...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I do too, man, I'm brown.

MARTIN: No, it's those bell bottoms you insist on wearing. Yo, I mean I'm sorry.

Mr. ARELLANO: No, it's my arabesque belt. But go on.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ay caramba.

MARTIN: Okay. But the one question, I do wonder whether English facility is in part a flashpoint? This ongoing - is it the out-of-status itself issue? You're here without papers and people say this is a nation of laws. Or is it this ongoing argument about whether or not immigrants are assimilating fast enough?

Mr. ARELLANO: It's the assimilation question. It's the culture question.

MARTIN: Let me raise this question.

Mr. ARELLANO: Okay.

MARTIN: Just because now the whole question of English is a big issue in Alabama. And this is an ad from Alabama gubernatorial candidate Tim James. Here it is. This is an ad. Okay, here it is.

Mr. IZRAEL: Drop it.

(Soundbite of gubernatorial ad)

Mr. TIM JAMES (Alabama gubernatorial candidate): I'm Tim James. Why do our politicians make us give driver's license exams in 12 languages? This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it. We're only giving that test in English if I'm governor. Maybe it's the businessman in me, but we'll save money, and it makes sense. Does it to you?

MARTIN: So, you know...

Mr. IZRAEL: Hmm.

MARTIN: What do you - so you think Gustavo, it's kind of, you think it's the assimilation piece? It's like I don't want to change my country.

Mr. IZRAEL: Boss Hogg.

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah. I'd like him to learn English too. You know, it's absolute xenophobia. It's something this country has always suffered about, about whether the immigrants are coming legally. There's always been this question of this current crop of immigrants, are they going to assimilate into the fabric of America? Are they going to be like the previous generations of immigrants? It was the question asked of the Italians, of the Jews, of the Irish. And it's a cliche to say that all the time.

But by the way, it's been going on and all those immigrants from the past that we love to lionize so much nowadays, they were all coming here legally. They were - I really do think it's based on that cultural part. And then, of course, the fact that so many of these immigrants, they are Latinos. A big chunk of those people are Mexicans. And Mexico has been America's traditional enemy. And it's just a big monkeywrench thrown into the American fabric right now that - I'm sure good people do have this question about the validity of papers. But again, if it was solely a question of legal status then we wouldn't have these problems in the past when all those immigrants were coming through Ellis Island and we're figuring out which ones were we going to change their names and which ones we were going to throw back on the boat back to Europe.

MARTIN: Let me jump to say, if you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having out weekly visit to the Barbershop with journalist Jimi Izrael, Gustavo Arellano, Arsalan Iftikhar and Ken Rudin.

Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Okay. Now typically, hearings on Capitol Hill don't provide a whole lot in the way of sparks. But Tuesday, investment bank Goldman Sachs was on the hot seat facing more than 11 hours of grilling from members of the Senate Committee.

MARTIN: You know, these hearings came just two weeks after the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil fraud lawsuit alleging Goldman deliberately and deceptively pushed the tail of these toxic mortgage securities.

So here is Senator Carl Levin of Michigan who chaired these hearings in an exchange with Goldman Sachs executive Daniel Sparks. Here it is.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): That context, let me tell you, the context is mighty clear. June 22 is the date of this email. Boy, that Timberwolf was one (bleep) deal. How much of that (bleep) deal did you sell to your clients after June 22, 2007?

Mr. DANIEL SPARKS (Executive, Goldman Sachs): Mr. Chairman, I don't know the answer to that, but the price would've reflected levels that they wanted to invest at that time.

SENATOR LEVIN: Oh, of course, but they didn't know, you didn't tell them you thought it was a (bleep) deal.

Mr. SPARKS: Well, I didn't say that.

SENATOR LEVIN: No, who did? Your people. Internally.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yikes. Michel.

MARTIN: There was no bleeping on the Hill. I just wanted to make sure. We added that, you know.

Mr. IZRAEL: It sounded like Andrew Dice Clay got loose in the chambers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Ken, Ken Dog.

RUDIN: I confuse Andrew Dice Clay with Carl Levin. I guess it must be the comb-over. But... You know, it's perfect for the symmetry. Perfect for the Democratic Party because they want to make - look, there's legitimate anger against Wall Street and its abuses and its, Wall Street's hubris. And just like we saw - remember during the health care debate when Anthem Blue Shield in California decided to raise its premiums 39 percent in the middle of the debate, immediately the Democrats had their argument. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Blue Shield is a separate entity and is a not-for-profit health plan. Blue Shield is not affiliated with WellPoint, the parent company of Anthem Blue Cross of California.]

When you have kind of non-answers from Goldman Sachs about what they did, whether they were really betraying their clients, whether they were just laughing at their clients, you have a momentum and it gives Harry Reid and the Democrats an argument. Like even if the Republicans have legitimate questions about what these bills will and will not do, the American people really know that Wall Street cannot keep doing what it's doing and the Republicans look bad and I think the Democrats got a big win this week.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, this is Arsalan, and as much as I enjoyed, you know, watching someone drop a deuce on Goldman Sachs, you know, I think it was a bit of political theater. I think that, you know, at the end of the day, you know, we recently heard that the SEC has, you know, asked for an official inquiry with the Justice Department about potential indictments coming down on securities fraud. I don't think we're going to ever see that that.

I think that, you know, what the administration, the Justice Department, the SEC, you know, members of the Senate are trying to show is that they are getting tough or going to get tough on Wall Street. And you know, I think, you know, Senator Levin's, you know, outburst really was just a bit of political theater that really is probably substantively not going to amount to much.

RUDIN: But Washington is political theater. That's exactly...

MARTIN: Yeah. That is what it is.

RUDIN: I mean Goldman Sachs gave a million dollars to the Barack Obama campaign in 2008. Many Democrats that were working for Tim Geithner...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

RUDIN: ...and the...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: But that's why there won't be an indictment.

Mr. ARELLANO: Richard Gephardt.

Mr. IZRAEL: But you know what, though?

RUDIN: So both parties are affected by this and both are tainted by this. And obviously, what a lot has to do with Washington is the politics of it.

MARTIN: I don't know. Jimi, what do you think? Yeah I want to hear what you think.

Mr. IZRAEL: In this country you get as much justice as you can afford. None of these bankers are going to see a day in jail. You know, of course, it's theater. That's all.

MARTIN: Well...

Mr. IZRAEL: That's me. That's what I think.

MARTIN: That's what you think. I don't know. Gustavo, what do you think?

Mr. ARELLANO: No. I mean I agree with Jimi. This is all political theater. If something, if actual reform, if actual sanctions go on Goldman Sachs, I'll buy everybody in this country a horchata or something. I really do not believe...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Nice.

Mr. ARELLANO: ...it's going to happen. Yeah, don't hold me to that, of course, but...

MARTIN: I'm still waiting for my Christmas present, Gustavo, so I don't know about all that.

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah, definitely for you, for all us here in the Barbershop I'll treat you guys to something nice. But I really don't believe that.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. ARELLANO: It's a show. It's a charade. Goldman Sachs has former congressmen as lobbyists talking to their old buddies on Capitol Hill. Are we really to believe that, you know, the buddy system is somehow going to break up in Washington? No it's not going to happen.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, though, I just want to mention an historical moment. The only person to admit any involvement in the assassination of civil rights icon Malcolm X was freed from prison on Tuesday after 45 years in prison. And for some reason, this really struck me. This is the same week that another civil rights icon, Dorothy Height was laid to rest. And I just - Ken, you wrote about this. I'm just interested why this intrigued you so much.

RUDIN: Well, you know, it has from the beginning because I do remember the assassination. I do remember the fact that only Thomas Hagan was the only one ever convicted of this. Apparently, there were other shooters but nobody ever found out who did it. It was just something that, you know, part of the 1960s and, you know, back then as a kid growing up in the Bronx, Malcolm X to me was not a leader. He was somebody that people just didn't understand or feared because they didn't understand. And as we watched those 45 years ensue, he grew into this tremendous icon who had, you know, he would've been 85 years had he lived, next month. But I mean he had so much to offer, and the fact that the killer was released from prison with no fanfare, no news at all - by the way, do you know where he was staying?

MARTIN: No.

RUDIN: He was staying at a correctional facility on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem.

MARTIN: Wow.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Wow.

MARTIN: Yeah. It's just an end of an era. I just thought it was worth remarking. So thank you for reminding us of this.

Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor. He was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio along with Arsalan Iftikhar. He's a civil rights attorney and the founder of themuslimguy.com and a legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. Also with us Gustavo Arellano, a syndicated columnist who writes the column "Ask a Mexican." He joined us from member station KUCI in Irvine, California. And Jimi Izrael, freelance journalist, author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He was with us from WCPN in Cleveland.

Thanks everybody.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

RUDIN: Thank you.

Mr. ARELLANO: Gracias.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. And we're celebrating our third anniversary. Happy Birthday to us.

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