A couple weeks ago, a political circus came to Phoenix. The Republican Nominee wanted to clarify his thoughts on immigration — his signature issue — and decided Phoenix would be a fine backdrop for the message.
Phoenix. Where 84 year old Sheriff Joe, known for discrimination against Hispanics, just won a primary election in a landslide, despite being investigated for violating a court order telling him to stop discriminating against Hispanics.
Primetime. Downtown. Governor Ducey. Sheriff Joe. Mike Pence. And the main event: The Reality TV Show Host himself.
Excitement in the desert.
Leading up to the event, the Republican Nominee had been waffling on immigration. What about the Wall? Would Mexico pay for it? Could Mexican immigrants actually be —gasp– decent human beings, after all? Might a Trump administration not round up and deport 11 million people?
So many questions left unanswered.
Confusion heightened during the day of the event. The Donald flew his plane south of the border for an official “quick — look presidential!” meeting with the leader of Mexico.
During Trump’s speech in Mexico, he acknowledged that Mexican immigrants should be recognized for their virtuous attributes. Hmmmm. Maybe he was striking a different tone? Maybe different from his 13 months of hateful rhetoric toward the same group of people?
No doubt John Kasich and Jeff Flake were on the edge of their seats.
This was it. The immigration policy speech of the century. All the cards on the table.
As I rolled up to the Phoenix convention center on my bike, the first thing I noticed was a sign being waved by a supporter outside the front door: Don’t be a pussy — vote for Trump. So much for subtlety. As I walked inside, a shirt walking in front of me referred to Hillary Clinton as a bitch.
Immediately, I felt tense. Who were these people? On any other day I might be unaware, shopping next to them in the grocery store. But now, with red hats all around me, there was no question about it: I was surrounded by fierce supporters of a man whose popularity could very well be a sign of the apocalypse.
The feelings got stranger as I walked through the metal detectors and into the crowd on the floor of the convention center. People were laughing and talking. Seemed normal. You almost forgot what the reason for this gathering was, until a vulgar shirt or sign reminded you what was going on.
A woman with a baby in a stroller wore a shirt that said “Fuck Racism.” I interpreted this as a protest against the rally, but she was left alone by the security team.
One by one, speakers arrived at the podium to scream about how Mexican immigrants were terrorizing our communities. The crowd approved: “Build that Wall!”
Sheriff Joe arrived at the podium to deafening applause. Think of the lawlessness, said Joe (who has already been found guilty of civil contempt), if we don’t crack down on these people. At the first mention of Clinton by the Sheriff (who is facing criminal charges for contempt) the crowd erupted: “Lock Her Up!”
Later, a group of parents whose kids had been killed in robberies and drunk driving incidents took the stage. One after another, they detailed the horrific ways in which their kids lost their lives by the hands of undocumented immigrants. It took at least 40 minutes. After each story, the parents blamed an entire race of people for the tragedy. The crowd would chant: “Build that Wall!”
I wondered if any of them knew, or cared, that undocumented immigrants commit far fewer of these crimes than U.S. citizens.
Finally, after some surprise guest appearances — Oh my gosh! Another white politician screaming about Mexicans! — from Jeff Sessions and Rudy Giuliani, the main act finally appeared.
Before his speech, the megalomaniac reminded the crowd: This will not be the usual rally speech. This will be an official speech on immigration policy. Thanks, Donald.
By the time he started yelling about police raids and deportation task forces and spreading fear into Latino communities, my heart felt sick. I left early. Apparently he went on like that for 70 minutes.
Luckily, my faith in humanity was restored the next morning.
Arriving at work, dozens of non-threatening Hispanic teenagers greeted me with hellos and good mornings. Some of them forgot to do their homework, but I told them to try to remember tomorrow.
We discussed the current event in each of my classes. We talked about executive orders and what a president can actually do about immigration. For many of my students, their futures and the stability of their own families will depend on the outcome of this political process.
There are various approaches to immigration reform. The solution is not easy.
One thing should be easy, though. It’s not OK to scapegoat ethnic groups.