Tuesday, May 04, 2010

SPORTS >> New law in Arizona called foul

Leader sports editor

Well, Arizona certainly booted this one.

Gov. Jan Brewer recently signed Arizona Immigration Law SB 1070, whose stated aim is to identify, prosecute and deport illegal aliens.

The law, scheduled to go into effect in August, came about after the murder of Arizona rancher Rob Krentz on his property March 27, and authorities believe it was an illegal border crosser who killed Krentz.

Whether for the new law or against it, and there are plenty of people on both sides, it certainly is one of the most stringent and far-ranging pieces of immigration legislation seen so far. It would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give police power to detain anyone suspected of being in the United States illegally.

Opponents of the measure say it will invite harassment and discrimination in the form of racial profiling, and not long after the law was signed, the Major League Players Association joined the opponents.

Baseball clubhouses, at least in the major leagues, are normally among the most conservative places in professional sports.

Don’t believe me? Try and talk taxes with a guy who just signed a multi-million contract.

But in this case, the conservatives behind the Arizona law muffed the play. Baseball is up in arms because it is felt the law would target foreign born and Latino players and their families.

Close to 25 percent of Major League players are born outside the United States.

“These international players are very much a part of our national pastime and are important members of our association,” said Michael Weiner, executive director of the players association.

“Their contributions to our sport have been invaluable and their exploits have been witnessed, enjoyed and applauded by millions of Americans.”

Apparently Arizona’s lawmakers neglected the fact that more than half the teams in baseball hold spring training in Arizona, or that young minor league players in need of further seasoning participate in the Arizona Fall League, or that the National League’s Arizona Diamondbacks — who quite unfairly have been the victims of protests as they traveled the country — are based in Phoenix.

A petition has circulated to get the 2011 Major League All-Star Game moved from the Diamondbacks’ home park, so while Arizona is trying to say goodbye to illegals, it may also be bidding farewell to plenty of sports-related revenues.

I quickly popped over to Dickey-Stephens Park to ask Arkansas Travelers Manager Bobby Magallanes about the league’s stance. Magallanes, born in the U.S. but of Mexican decent, is in his fourth year as manager of the Travelers, a Texas League affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels.

The Angels train in Tempe, Ariz., near Phoenix, where Magallanes lives with his wife, who was born in Mexico and is a legal U.S. citizen, and his young children. Magallanes’ brother, Ever, is a legalized citizen who also manages in the minor leagues.

Magallanes is as good a company man as you’ll find, and under orders from above he referred all questions on the issue to the Angels and their public relations department.

But the position “Mags” was forced to take illustrates just how touchy people are about Arizona’s new law.

It is feared in baseball that Hispanic and Latin American players, especially younger, less recognized players, could be stopped without their passports or proper paperwork then be detained while the matter is cleared up. And that’s probably the gist of baseball’s objection — a key player might miss a big game because a police officer doesn’t like his looks.

In fairness, there are some misconceptions about the new law.

It doesn’t require new documentation but insists foreign-born citizens carry the paperwork they already have; the law doesn’t allow police to stop someone because of his looks but only to detain him after already making “lawful contact,” say, for speeding.

And the law forbids police from considering a person’s race when determining his status and forces police to contact the federal government when a suspect is thought to be illegal.

But what a hassle for an innocent person — who is only guilty of carelessness in forgetting his paperwork — to go through. I can picture a legal citizen missing the birth of his child, an important job interview or, yes, even a baseball game because, under the duress of the moment, he raced off without his passport.

And the law seems to do nothing about stopping the flow of drug dealers and smugglers and other criminals into the United States. It only punishes people already here.

And what a slap in the face to the great foreign-born players who made baseball what it is.

I imagine Roberto Clemente would be rolling over in his grave.