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'The State of Arizona' looks into immigration and racial profiling issues

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The State of Arizona

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My husband and I have been watching "Breaking Bad." The series was recommended to me by a classmate in my metalsmithing course. As I recall, it was because I mentioned my husband had a Ph.D. in chemistry.

Although that series was filmed and takes place in New Mexico, you can't help but feel its hot breath stinking of the halitosis of drug trade in this documentary, "The State of Arizona." The documentary aired on 27 January 2014 on the PBS program Independent Lens and is now available VoD.

New Mexico is to the east of Arizona. Arizona is east of California. Nevada is northwest of Arizona and Utah is directly North of Arizona. To the south of California, Arizona and New Mexico is Mexico. I grew up under the stark light of the California desert. Where once there had been orchards of citrus fruit and then acres of tomatoes and cucumbers, there are not houses. The tumbleweeds that used to chase me down, riding on Santa Ana winds, are no longer rolling around my old neighborhood and the terrorizing small children. The desert is not dying. The scarcity of water has signed the death warrant of the once green lawns on my block and many neighboring blocks.

Yet traveling farther inland, you get to the unrelenting dry and humorless Anza-Borrego desert state park. Scorpions and rattlesnakes scurry around. And then you can go farther east into flat lands and pavement so hot that eggs can be fried and you will eventually reach Arizona.The immigration wars began hundreds of years ago. First the Spanish invaded the lands that became Mexico and then the so-called Americans invaded Mexican lands. The Mexican border was slowly changed as Mexico lost territory.

Before California, Arizona and New Mexico were part of the United States, they were Mexican land, land taken from the Native Americans. There's an irony that the Mexican immigration has become such a controversial topic. You need to understand the geography and history to comprehend how deep the problem of immigration is in this sate. "The State of Arizona" looks at the controversial passage of SB 1070, a so-called anti-illegal-immigration bill.

Early on, the documentary looks at the implementation of laws that resulted. The former state senator, Russell Pearce stated that the laws would pick out illegal aliens "one traffic stop at a time." Pearce took the bill's passage as a sign to be tough on illegal immigration, but found himself recalled for what he claims was essentially keeping his campaign promises.

The laws encouraged racial profiling. People were stopped for looking like they might be illegal which didn't translate into being white Canadian or white European, but Latino or mestizo (mixed Spanish and Native American). The documentary also looks at families whose very gathering meant breaking the law. Knowingly consorting with an illegal alien meant you were also breaking the law.

Directed by Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini, the documentary is even-handed and gives you no answers. Instead, it presents questions and shows how the lives of the legal and illegal are intermingled and how the drug wars might have converted some people. Racism is an easy answer, but it isn't the only reason people are anti-illegal alien. There's a lot more wrong with politics in that desert state and like this problem, there are no easy solutions.

Even if "Breaking Bad" is only a bit of fantastically dark comedic fantasy, we know that there are border towns with too many unsolved murders and federal agents and police on both sides of the border who are casualties of the drug wars.

"Breaking Bad" is available as video on demand on Netflix. PBS also has "The State of Arizona" available VoD. Both are intelligent programming. You shouldn't watch the fictional New Mexico in "Breaking Bad" without watching this factual documentary on Arizona.

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