Immigrant rights activists say legendary guitarist Carlos Santana hit a home run during his speech at Major League Baseball's annual Civil Rights Game on May 15 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Santana was honored before the game where the Atlanta Braves hosted the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field and received the Beacon of Change award.
Days earlier, on May 13, Republican Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a draconian anti-immigrant law aimed at expanding enforcement powers and requiring employers to check the immigration status of new applicants. The bill, HB 87, authorizes local police to check the immigration status of “suspects” in their custody and arrest them if they are undocumented.
Georgia's immigration law is one of the strictest in the country and is similar to Arizona's SB 1070, enacted last year. Like Arizona, Georgia is a Republican-dominated state.
Santana, a Grammy winner, immigrated to the United States from Mexico in the 1960s. During his live pregame speech, he said elected officials in Arizona and Georgia should be ashamed.
“This law is not correct,” Santana said. “It’s actually a cruel law. This is about fear. Stop shaking and shaking. People are afraid that we will steal your job. No, we are not. They won't change the bed linen and clean the toilets. I would invite all Latin Americans to do nothing for about two weeks so that you can see who is really running the economy. I am here to give a voice to the invisible. This is the United States. This is the land of the free. If people want immigration laws to continue to be enforced, then everyone should get out and leave the Indians here.”
The Georgia law is based on racism and economic fear, Santana noted after his speech to reporters at the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
“It’s an anti-American law,” Santana said. “If you all remember what it was like here with Martin Luther King and the dogs and hoses, it's the same thing except it's high tech. So let’s change it.”
The law takes effect July 1 and imposes prison sentences of up to one year and fines of up to $1,000 for people who knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants. It also claims that workers convicted of using false documents when applying for jobs could be sentenced to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Opponents say the law is unconstitutional, targets the Latino community and could lead to racial profiling. Civil rights lawyers in Georgia are working with several national groups to launch a lawsuit challenging the law.
Last year, a federal judge blocked key provisions of Arizona's law after the U.S. Justice Department and the Obama administration sued. An appeals court upheld that decision last month.
Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights condemned Georgia's anti-immigrant law in a statement, calling it an “abhorrent law.”
He told CNN: “Georgia’s lawmakers have not learned from Arizona’s mistakes. These laws assume everyone is guilty, contradicting the fundamental American assumption that defendants are innocent until proven otherwise.”
The Mexican government also condemned the Georgia law in a statement to CNN. “Lawmakers and state leaders ignored the immigrant community’s many contributions to Georgia’s economy and society,” officials said.
Latino advocates in Georgia are calling for a nationwide boycott of Georgia's convention centers and urging tourists not to vacation there. Community meetings are also being organized that include a summer action plan against the measure, including a work stoppage on the day the law takes effect, followed by a march and rally in Atlanta.
Meanwhile, some claim Santana was out of place criticizing Georgia's anti-immigrant law before a major league game.
However, Kim Conte wrote in The Stir that “the state where the civil rights controversy is taking place was also the site of the Civil Rights Game, which purports to honor the history of civil rights in America.”
Conte continues: “Consider that Santana – an immigrant and Latino – was honored as a civil rights pioneer. How could he not have spoken out against it?”
Conte notes, “Even if you strongly disagree with Santana's position on undocumented immigrants, you have to respect someone who is actually talking about civil rights at a civil rights event. I would have much less respect for him as an artist and cultural voice if he stood by and left such hypocrisy unmentioned. Not to mention the fact that it seems like speaking up and trying to change things is exactly what we would expect from a Beacon of Change recipient, even if he may have a different opinion than us. Perhaps his content was inappropriate in some circles, but the choice of framing for his rant – that was absolutely accurate.”
Photo: Carlos Santana gestures after receiving the Major League Baseball Beacon of Change Award during a pregame ceremony at the annual Civil Rights Game on May 15 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)