Wear Your Papers on July 29th
In 1985, I was sitting in a sidewalk cafe in Zagreb in what was then Yugoslavia, talking with a young local woman. We had been sitting there for a while, and this was apparently suspicious behavior, because eventually an armed man in uniform (I don’t know if he was police or military — or if there was much of a difference) approached us and asked us for our papers. The experience was unnerving… and that was the intent. Once he saw my U.S. passport, he was very apologetic. The objective was not to intimidate U.S. tourists. The objective was to intimidate the citizens.
On July 29, Arizona law S.B. 1070 is scheduled to go into effect. This law directs local law enforcement agencies to ask people whom they suspect might be illegal immigrants for their papers (if they have been stopped for any other infraction). Thus, those who are immigrants (and those who might be suspected of being immigrants) must carry around their papers at all times or else risk arrest. Being required to carry one’s papers around is an early and common tactic used by totalitarian regimes to intimidate people and keep them in line. This is not to say that the vast majority of people who support this law do so out of malevolence, but make no mistake, this is not benign. This law is not just about “illegal” immigrants. This law is about legally intimidating people who look different (after all, who looks like an illegal immigrant? Will they be going after everyone who looks Canadian? Or Irish?).
When the Nazis first went into Denmark, the story goes that they announced that the Jews would all have to wear yellow Stars of David on their clothing so that they could be easily identified. In response, the King of Denmark rode out the next morning wearing a yellow Star of David. The rest of the population then followed his example. The Nazis couldn’t tell who was Jewish so the Jews were saved. It turns out that this story isn’t true – Jews were never required to wear the special marker in Denmark – but the Danish King and citizens really did stand in solidarity with their Jewish brothers and sisters, which helped the vast majority of them to survive the occupation.
One can understand why the apocryphal story is still told, however, because it is true that the Nazis commonly used such markers to label vulnerable minorities. For example, they required foreign forced laborers to wear blue triangles. Knowing that, and in the spirit of the Danish story, I was moved to create an event on facebook inviting people to “Wear Your Papers” on July 29th. You simply need to affix a blue inverted triangle to your clothing and stand in solidarity with your brothers and sisters in Arizona.
This isn’t about immigration. It is about how we treat the people who are here. Let’s take a stand. Stand on the side of love.
Master of Divinity student at Wesley Theological Seminary