By Steven Tavares

It is no surprise the Hayward City Council and residents at Tuesday’s meeting were divided over Arizona’s controversial immigration law–the entire country is roiling in debate over its constitutionality. Undaunted the council approved sending a letter to Arizona Gov. Jane Brewer condemning the law, 4-0 with 3 members, including Mayor Michael Sweeney, abstaining.

The letter first proposed by Councilman Francisco Zermeno asks the governor to seek a federal solution to the immigration problem which is particularly sensitive in border states like Arizona. The letter though offers no alternative. “It is unfortunate that the State of Arizona, in a solitary effort to stem the tide of illegal immigration into your state, has passed a strict immigration law making the failure to carry immigration papers a crime, and giving the Arizona police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the United States illegally, with little or no cause,” the letter reads. “Like others, the City of Hayward believe such policies taken to their most negative limit could easily lead to racial profiling and, therefore, to the public’s mistrust of our local police officers.”

Zermeno said he was never required to carry identification other than a driver’s license when he immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in the 1960s nor when he gained citizenship in 1980. He said Arizona’s law must be condemned now before it grows into a larger problem. “We must not allow a biased root to become a full-grown poison ivy of racial injustice,” said Zermeno, who along with members Barbara Halliday, Kevin Dowling and Olden Henson voted in favor of the letter.

Henson, who was raised in Louisiana, said his past experiences growing up in the South gives him a unique perspective on the law. Henson recalled sitting at the back of the bus and lowering his head while walking down the street so as not to make eye contact with whites, especially white women.

Critics of the decision to debate out-of-state issues say Hayward has more important issues to decide, but Henson pointed to reports of a large movement of Latinos leaving Arizona for nearby states. Some did not agree.

“It’s ludicrous that you guys are spending time on other state’s problems,” said Hayward resident Ken Moudy. “Fix the problems here, first.” Linda Bennett took more of a legal stance and worried what she would tell her children if disobeying the law was condoned. “Are you saying it’s okay to break the law?”

Councilmembers Anna Laveria May, Jim Quirk and Mayor Sweeney chose to abstain from voting. May urged the council to stay focused on the city. “We have a lot going on right here now in the city of Hayward,” she said. “That’s why we’re here. I think we’re forgetting that.”

Both Sweeney and Quirk did not mount a criticism of the law but stated the council’s existing policy against taking stands on issues outside the purview of Hayward. “What’s going to be next? The oil spill? Are we going to condemn BP? That’s a good thing. We all want to condemn BP but we have other things to do,” said Quirk, who says he will send a personal letter to Gov. Brewer. Sweeney added: “Arizona can’t require Hayward to do anything that I’m aware of nor can Arizona require California to do anything.”

Numerous speakers Tuesday night feared Arizona’s law would signal further reprecussions in the future for immigrants across the country. Most put the law in an historical perspective saying it reminded them of the rise of fascism in Germany before World War II. “If people are being treated unjustly, it is our responsibility as an individual, as a group, or let me say, as a city, to stand up and say something,” said resident Betty DeForest. “Nobody said anything until it was too late to say something.”
Bob Wichman gave perhaps the most impassioned pleas against the law when he lamented his friend–a third-generation American–recently brought his passport with him for a trip to the state.  “I was born and raised in an immigrant community called the United States of America,” said Wichman, who said he values Hayward for its rich ethnic diversity.

“There are those who says it does not concern Hayward because it is another state,” he said. “There are those who said 75 years ago that what was happening in Germany didn’t concern us. There were those who said 50 years ago the laws in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia did not concern us. They concern us. The laws in Arizona would make me an outlaw.”