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Home / Articles / Opinion / Private Eye /  Rep. Scapegoat: Stephen Sandstrom
Private Eye

Rep. Scapegoat: Stephen Sandstrom

We have a serious immigration problem, but scapegoating Mexicans isn’t going to change it.

By John Saltas
Posted // August 18,2010 - When I say some of my best friends are Mexicans, I mean it. It’s not a toss-away line, something I would say to endear myself to anyone, especially to other friends who (sadly) lack Mexican friends. I figure that if you grew up in Utah and you weren’t befriended by a Mexican family, you and I are not going to get along. To the chagrin of many small-minded Utahns who hate reading about it, I’m proud of my “dirty Greek” heritage. If I were forced to trade, though, I’d trade to Mexican.

I’d trade to Italian third, and it’s a tie between Serbian or Croatian for fourth. I won’t say what would be next, so as to leave all other ethnicities in the hunt except for two—nothing personal, Okur, Max and Rick G., but it would be hard to face my relatives in Greece as a German or a Turk.

But Mexican? Yeah, I could do that. I was lucky enough to grow up with Mexicans in the copper-mining town of Bingham Canyon. They nurtured me. They fed me. They made me laugh. They taught me to listen to Mexican music—and to Elvis. They loved their religion and practiced it faithfully. They nursed and nourished their families. They had pictures of John F. Kennedy on their living-room walls. They enlisted in the armed forces without reservation during the Vietnam War—and three of them died there.

Growing up, I never heard Mexicans or Mexican-Americans referred to as Hispanics or Latinos—the inclusive, kinder and gentler terms born of history, geography and politically correctness. I never heard the words “illegal immigrant,” either, which I believe is just code for “taco bender.” Some derisive and ignorant Utahns referred to my Mexican friends as “spics,” “wetbacks,” “beaners,” and “cherry pickers.” Funny, they sometimes did pick cherries—down in Utah County, home of Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, who is touting a new law he thinks will solve the problem of immigration reform. That must have been quite a sight back then, watching truckloads of Mexicans roll into town to pick the cherries and then move on to the next town, the next crop, the next harvest. Their work revealed a basic truism of Utah life that holds today: Utahns like cheap produce, but they don’t like to produce it.

It was one thing to curiously tolerate those brown, mustachioed Mexicans, blistering under the hot sun in their flannel shirts and rolled-up jeans, on a seasonal basis. It became less tolerable when they had the audacity to learn nonseasonal trades besides those in the aforementioned mining camps (where they could live and work principally unseen by pious eyes; or, better yet, get blown up). When work in the fields and orchards diminished (succumbing to urban sprawl), Mexicans began taking on jobs in the same acreage that once grew the radishes—except now, they were doing landscaping, homebuilding, cooking or cleaning. With year-round work available, and with unscrupulous accomplices in the business world hiring them, Mexicans moved to Utah in droves. Never mind that they were often mysteriously deported on paydays, leaving behind the Social Security taxes they’d paid (but would never collect anyway) for "honest" Utahns to benefit from.

Which leads to a second basic Utah truism: Utahns like things so cheap that, even though they despise Mexicans, they’ll still hire them to tend their lawns for less money than they’d pay their own sons. Which leads to the third: If their son doesn’t turn on the water and burns the lawn, the Mexican will be blamed. And the fourth: Mexicans are to blame for everything, even for speaking Spanish in their Spanish-language LDS wards.

There are hundreds of online comments regarding Sandstrom’s proposed law that confirm what I’ve known my whole life—bigotry, if not overt racism, is alive and well in Utah. I once described the anonymous Internet comment boards as an electronic KKK. Allow the shield of anonymous comments, and you will read how Mexicans are drug-dealing, lazy, corrupt thieves stealing from good Americans like the commenters themselves. Remove the shield, and those same commenters hustle the Mexican waitress while savoring each bite of their $3.99 ham and eggs.

On TV, Sandstrom moused his way through the Capitol Hill press conference, his voice cracking as he presented his immigration bill. Surrounded by a vocal chorus of Hispanics and Latinos, he was clearly nervous. He looked like a white rice kernel in a bag of brown rice. For a moment I thought, “Aha! Now he knows what it feels like to be alone and frightened with no one to trust and nowhere to turn.” Nah. Didn’t happen. Sandstrom is determined to carry his bill (costs unknown) to the Legislature.

We have a serious immigration problem, but scapegoating Mexicans isn’t going to change it. The problem will not be solved by deputizing our police in a lame effort to ferret out those who are here illegally (and, illegal or not, who are protected by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution). A real immigration bill wouldn’t go after some guy with a shovel and a trowel trying to feed his family; it would go after the guy who had hired him. But, that would mean Sandstrom would have to go after his own friends, neighbors and associates—the ones who owned the cherry orchards, who sold them to their buddies in land development, who contracted with their construction friends, who hired the Mexicans.

Sandstrom will never do that. There’s no chance he will own up to the real truth: that he remains purposely blind when it comes to “illegal” immigration.

John Saltas:
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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // February 10,2011 at 10:45

Where in this debate is the fact that the politicians in Arizona and Utah are a wholly (holy) owned subsidiary of the private prison industry. You mention FAIR (which has been designated as a hate group by the Souther Poverty Law Center) but fail to metion ALEC (the lobbiest lawmaker dating service) who actually wrote the bill. The private prison contractors which stand to profit from the bill, sent contributions to 33/36 co-sponsors of Az HB 1070 within 6 months of their introduction of the bill. Utah lawmakers are just as beholden to these corporations as Az lawmakers are. Sandstrom is actually less visably involved with prison contractors than many Utah lawmakers, which may be why he has been chosen to shephard this particularly nasty bit of legislation through the UT state house. What I want to know is why after the excellent series of articles in City Weekly has the issue been dropped? 100% of the Republican lawmakers I researched were in bed with private prison companies from CCA and MTEC to Geo Group (Wackenhut), to former Utah official instrumental in setting up Abu Ghrab. A small group of merchant of death type corporations owns Utah lawmakers lock stock and barrel (Browning official gun of the 2011 legislature). It is government by corporations of corporations and for corporations.Racism and scapegoating for fun and prophet oops profit. I was writing a speech about illegal immigration reform for school and it soon became obvious that the members of Utah's legislature sponsoring these so called immigration reform bills are all being paid to do it one way or another. This is an ugly truth that has largely been ignored by media. An insane clown posse has taken over Utahs politics and we are in store for some spectacular backyard wrestling over vital issues such as restoring the phosphates to dishwashing liquid.We need to expose the corporations behind these bills, dollars to doughnuts Sandstrom is being paid by a corporation that makes phosphates.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // August 20,2010 at 18:26

If Sandstrom were serious about his horror of brown people living in Utah, he would add to his bill a substantial fine for businesses that hire those people he hates so dearly, say $250,000 per offense. The problem would go away tomorrow. Problem is that many of Sandstrom's mormon, bigoted, hate-filled colleagues are the very business owners who would face fines. Pretty clear that getting at the source of the problem is irrelevent to Sandstrom. He's just looking for fame and fortune as he rides the wagon of Mormon, Republican hate in his aspirations of the governor's office.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // August 18,2010 at 16:36

Ignorance is Bliss: Those who have NO CLUE or QUALIFICATIONS about Immigration are those who show their IGNORANCE :)

There is NO SUCH WORD AS 'ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT" in Blacks Law Dictionary, or In Merriam Websters Dictionary. Get Educated .

"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Wednesday that the claim by some conservative activists that illegal immigration is to blame for all of the state's fiscal problems is ignorant and bigoted."

Arturo E. Ocampo of Tracy has been a practicing attorney since 1985, In the 20-plus years I have spent studying, lecturing and litigating immigration issues, two things have always amazed me. The first is the amount and intensity of hate spewed against undocumented workers. The second is the amount of misinformation that is published about them.

On this second point, the quote from Mark Twain is illustrative. "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." I suppose this may be true in part because misinformation, like a lie, requires no accuracy, validation or research; all of which are time-consuming practices.

The recent letters alleging that all undocumented workers are "criminals," and specifically Veronica Suarez, whose plight was written about in the Tracy Press recently, is a criminal are factually incorrect.

According to the facts (as stated in Sharon Franceschi’s Sept. 7 commentary) Saurez entered the U.S. on a valid visa, overstayed her visa when it expired, resulting in her unlawful immigration status. None of these acts, as stated by Franceschi, constitute a crime under federal or state law. Overstaying a valid visa under the Immigration and Naturalization Act is a civil violation of the law, not a criminal violation. Being in the U.S. in under undocumented status is not a criminal violation, but a civil violation of the INA.

The facts, as stated by Franceschi, do not indicate that Suarez has committed any crime. To call her a criminal is erroneous at best, and libelous at worst.

Furthermore, it is an Americanism that a person is innocent until proven guilty. So until Suarez (or any other undocumented person) is charged and found guilty of a crime, it would be inappropriate to call them "criminals."

It is important to note that there is a very large difference between civil and criminal violations of law. The distinction is so important that the law makes the erroneous allegation that one has committed a crime of slander or libel, (which means liability is automatic even without proof of damages). One who violates the civil law is no more a criminal than someone who has breached a contract or accidentally damaged another’s property.

It is true that entering the United States without inspection is a misdemeanor under the INA. The misdemeanor is completed once an individual’s entry is complete. Suarez, according to Franceschi, did not enter without inspection; she entered with a valid visa. According to U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services statistics, about 40 percent of undocumented persons enter legally and overstay their visas (which, as stated above, is not a crime). Consequently, at least 40 percent of the undocumented population has committed no crime in regards to their immigration status.

Therefore, one cannot assume that a person has committed a crime simply because they are undocumented.

Franceschi is also in error in her allegation that getting married and having children while being undocumented in the U.S. is a violation of the law. It is not. Franceschi goes on to say that Suarez "apparently bought a house illegally." It is unlikely that Franceschi knows exactly how Suarez purchased her home. Consequently, any allegation of illegality is, at a minimum, irresponsible.

It is also important to note that the Immigration and Citizenship Services doesn’t consider all undocumented persons criminals. When the Immigration and Citizenship Services publishes information about its enforcement activities involving undocumented workers, it are always sure to make a distinction between "criminal" and noncriminal aliens.

Another myth is that the term "illegal aliens" is a term of art or is legal jargon. This term is not found anywhere in the INA or in Blacks Law Dictionary. The INA refers to undocumented persons as either an EWI (entered without inspection) or as someone who has overstayed their visa. "Illegal aliens" is a term invented by anti-immigrant groups designed to put undocumented persons in the worst possible light and to instill fear in Americans. It is intentionally designed to associate undocumented persons with criminality.

This xenophobic view that undocumented persons are "simply criminals" comes from the historical stereotype that the foreign-born, especially undocumented immigrants, are responsible for higher crime rates. This misconception has deep roots in American public opinion and popular myth. This myth, however, is not supported empirically and has repeatedly been refuted by scientific studies. Both contemporary and historical data, (including U.S. governmental studies) have shown that immigration is associated with lower crime rates.

The studies have uniformly shown that recent immigrants (including the undocumented) are less likely to be involved in violent crime, and that when there is an increase in immigration patterns, violent crime decreases. This has been shown to be true in large cities with heavy immigrant populations.

In the most recent of these studies, The Myth of Immigrant Criminality and the Paradox of Assimilation (2007), from the Immigrant Policy Institute, it was found that among men age 18 to 39 (who are the vast majority of inmates in federal and state prisons and local jails), immigrants were five times less likely to be incarcerated than the native-born in 2000.

During the Proposition 187 debate, then-Gov. Pete Wilson published statistics that stated that
12 percent to 15 percent of the state prison population had Immigration and Citizenship Services holds or potential holds. The Department of Corrections analyst who compiled these numbers said Immigration and Citizenship Services holds are placed on inmates who were born outside of the U.S. (therefore 12 percent to 15 percent of the prison population was immigrants). The immigrant population at the time in California hovered at about 25 percent, showing immigrants were much less likely to be incarcerated than the native born in California.

In short, the data shows you are much safer if your neighbor is an immigrant.

Franceschi owes Suarez an apology. I am also surprised that the Tracy Press allowed a commentary to run without checking the facts. Although commentaries are designed to allow for the expression of differing opinions, the First Amendment is not as generous with misstatements of facts — especially when the facts can be libelous.

For the immigration debate to be a healthy one, we should strive for a debate based on facts, not myth or tired stereotypes. We should also not let our position on this topic strip us of one of the great qualities we possess as people — the ability to be compassionate.

Arturo E. Ocampo of Tracy has been a practicing attorney since 1985, with an expertise in immigration rights and class action lawsuits on behalf of immigrants, including the way the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was implemented, Border Patrol’s raids and Proposition 187. He is director of diversity and equal employment opportunity for the San Jose/Evergreen Community College District.

 

Posted // August 19,2010 at 09:33 - You, sir, are parsing words and dancing all around with your hair on fire. It's simple, Anonymous, if you "overstay" your visa, you have broken the law. I don't care whether you or La Raza or Sen. Robles thinks so, it's just a fact, not open to activist interpretation, just a fact. And if you think employers who hire your "undocumented violators of civil law" make appropriate deductions and then dutifully turn those monies in to the government, it is you who is blissfully ignorant.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // August 18,2010 at 16:28

THE FACTS ARE THAT JAN BREWER, SANDSTORM AND THE REPUBLICANS ARE DOING THIS TO GET REELECTED, HERE ARE FACTS.

1, HOW MUCH MONEY $$$$$$$ IS ALLOCATED TO ENFORCE THIS LAW?? NONE.

2, HOW MANY NEW POLICEMEN / WOMEN SHES HIRED TO HOLD AND PROCESS THE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS? NONE.

3, HOW MANY NEW IMMIGRATION JUDGES SHES HIRED TO PROCESS THE THOUSANDS OF DEPORTATION CASES?? NONE.

4, HOW MANY NEW JAILS SHES BUILT TO HOLD THE THOUSANDS OF UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS? NONE.

5, HOW MANY BUSES / PLANES SHES BROUGHT TO DEPORT THE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF THOSE WHO ARE ORDERED BY THE IMMIGRATION JUDGES TO BE DEPORTED?? NONE.

CAN ANYONE ANSWER THESE FACTS? THE REPUBLICAN STATES ARE TRYING TO MAKE THIS THEIR PLATFORM, THEY WILL LOSE BIGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG TIME.


ALL ARE GODS CHILDREN. NO HUMAN IS ABOVE ANOTHER. ALL ARE CREATED BY ONE ALMIGHTY GOD WHO LOVES ALL HIS CHILDREN.
I AM NOT SAYING DON'T CLOSE THE BORDERS.

I AM SAYING STOP THE FOOLISH HATE AND IGNORANCE.

 

Posted // August 19,2010 at 15:15 - If Republicans are just doing this to get re-elected, like some kind of grandstanding gimmick, who's going to vote for them, Anonymous? It takes an electorate to vote for people. They have one. This situation gets polled to death and the majority of people want laws to prevent illegals from gaining entrance and then, basically, squatting. Squatters, traditionally, just take land, sit on it until someone raises an objection and then defend themselves by saying that no one said anything up until now, so the land now belongs to the squatter. Sixty-six per cent of Arizonans want SB 1070. Two thirds of the people. Last time I checked, that's more than half. Now, unless there's a clear violation of the Constitution, immigration activists have nothing but emotion to stand on. And the only emotion they are garnering is coming from immigrants and their families. Anonymous, try sneaking into Mexico and see what happens to you. Your family won't be waiting at the train station or bus station when you're deported back to America. They'll probably never hear from you again. Try using that GOD LOVES ALL HIS CHILDREN bullshit with a guy dressed in black paramilitary clothes carrying a machine gun who's just handcuffed you in the Sonoran Desert and he and his buddies want your wallet and then your family's bank account back in the states. And this isn't about actually rounding up illegal immigrants and trials and incarceration. It's about scaring them out of Arizona, which is apparently working. What Sandstrom and his ilk are counting on is that Utahns will fear that they will come here and avoid Arizona. Thus, we need a similar bill in their minds. That'll scare them into Nevada and Colorado and New Mexico. Those states are already gearing up similar bills. It's a game, like putting an alarm company sign on your lawn. Thieves check out your sign and go to the hosue next door without a sign. You may not even have an alarm system, but you have the sign and it works.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // August 18,2010 at 13:16

John, you nailed it. I also grew up with those mexican kids at Bingham High School and they were some of my best friends, too. Being an old farm boy, I also grew up working along side of the Mexican workers on our farm who came to the United States on work permits. I gained a lot of respect for their work ethic and their culture. When the work permits were ended, we tried to hire the local high school boys to haul hay, weed tomotaoes and pick pumpkins. Most of them only lasted a few days and those that stayed longer never were able to work as hard as the Mexicans, except maybe my buddy Jerry Osoro, who is Basque. When the Mexican work force dried up, the farmers in Riverton had to shift from growing labor intensive produce to hay and grain harvested with equipment. And, as you point out, today those fields are full of houses that were built by contractors who used the Mexican, illegal immigrant to do the nasty jobs like roofing, insulation, and cement work. It is no surprise that companies like Layton Consturction are saying they can't do what they do without the illegal immigrants.

It is easy for people like Sandstrom to make Mexicans the scapegoat for our high unemployment and bad economy rather then tackle the complex issues. For him, he gets political capital from his constituency for introducing the bill and he knows that at the end of the day some Mexican is still going to mow his lawn, repair his roof and do all thoughs jobs his kids will not take.

 

Posted // August 23,2010 at 08:29 - Sad that now, one of the worst places for a Mexican immigrant teen to attend high school would be the elitist Bingham High. How things do change.

 

 
 
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