Tempest in a tea-cup: AZ SB1070 and our intent to boycott

A regular session of the Bloomington city council with no items on the agenda is going to be a short one. Last night’s was 35 minutes, most of it taken up by public comment.

One commenter spoke against our intent to urge other city officials to boycott Arizona due to their Senate Bill 1070. He said several things, echoing many more bellicose critics, that deserve mention if not correction. I’ll take this opportunity to weigh in on the kerfuffle that the letter sparked.

First, the commenter said that we “voted” on the boycott. We did no such thing. No councilmember (CM) brought forward a resolution or ordinance. The eight of nine members, the City Clerk and the Mayor all signed a letter to Arizona’s governer. That’s it. The letter, authored by CM Sturbaum, has no force of law, is not binding on any city employee, and does not even reflect the official policy of the city. It is elected officials expressing their individual opinions and intents jointly in a letter to the chief executive of Arizona.

Second, he said that we were not representing our constituents because he, for one, disagreed with our stance, and he knew plenty of others like him. Giving individuals veto power over each decision of their duly-elected representative body is the definite existential contradiction. (We would have invoked this argument during the entire eight years of the second Bush administration!) If critics want to return to the Athenian agora and join 6000 other people in voting on each and every law, I say, go for it, and let us know when you need help getting your trash picked up.

I’ve heard similar critiques of our un-representativeness, having to do with us having put the letter on Council letterhead. To these nitpickers I say: letterhead does not convey the force of law. Only legislation that has been passed through due process is done in the name of the citizens of our jurisdiction. Otherwise, any one of us is free to communicate on matters of official business with the Council’s letterhead. While our intent to boycott is not a matter of ordinance or resolution, it is an official matter.

Third, he conflated “illegal aliens” with “criminals,” and went on to say that they collectively were wreaking “havoc” in this country. While I’m sure there are illegal aliens committing crimes here, I do not think the rate of crimes is much higher than the crime rate for the general population, and the notion that all illegal aliens are rampantly committing crimes is nonsense. The more important distinction here, though, is between “illegal aliens” and “criminals.” I’m happy to be corrected on these points, but until I am I’ll keep making them: according to my understanding of immigration law…

  1. Crossing the border illegally is a federal misdemeanor. To be charged with that crime, though, one must be observed in the act of crossing.
  2. Otherwise, the mere presence of an alien in the US, while “illegal,” is not per se a crime. They cannot be charged with anything; the remedy is simply deportation.
  3. A deported alien who then RE-crosses the border commits a federal felony. Their mere presence in the country then becomes a prosecutable crime.

Many aliens here, in other words, may be here illegally, but they’re not “criminals.” Their ongoing demonization by supporters of the Arizona legislation is unhealthy rhetoric at best.

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Most of the critics of our effort have vowed to reverse-boycott Bloomington in retaliation. If they think our boycott empty, theirs is no less. Most were never going to set foot in Bloomington anyway. We have had a very few confirmable cases of people canceling an already-booked trip or meeting here, but not enough to justify the Chamber of Commerce’s scaremongering.

Speaking of trash pickup, meanwhile, the city has a contract with Hoosier Disposal to receive trash collected from the curbsides of tens of thousands of residences, and to dump it in their landfill near Terre Haute. Hoosier is owned by Republic Services, based in Phoenix, and unlike the period when they ruled the roost after the Monroe County Landfill was shut down, they are no longer the only game in town for final disposal of trash.

There are plenty of other reasons (read: dollars, carbon emissions) for the city to solicit a new landfill provider, but adding social equity to the calculation and the issue becomes harder to shrug off. If this means that Hoosier pushes their parent organization to push Arizona legislators to rescind SB1070, our informal boycott has done its job.

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