Our VoiceImmigration

Biking Beyond Bigotry: More Bars in More….

Guest Blogger • May 20, 2011

by Minnie McMahon

The lights of Florence, AZ, were beacons in the night, signaling to us – the Bicycling Beyond Bigotry riders – that our long day was coming to a close.

But with its lights urging us on, Florence seemed to come no closer. The town was like a mirage. The miles seemed endless because we knew we were arriving at a scene as concrete as it was baffling.

Florence is a prison town, home to three state prisons, two private prisons, and four federal and county prisons; it’s a hub of detention centers.

We were about to hit ground zero of the immigration war that’s currently raging its way through Arizona and across the nation. After a week of theoretical, political, and ideological conversations, Florence stood out as a frighteningly quintessential icon of what we set out to oppose on and with our trip: the unjust and inhumane treatment of immigrants.

The town “houses” many thousands of people whom have been detained due to complications of immigration status. Though predating the 2010 passing of SB 1070, the prison town simultaneously represents both the result and the cause of bills and resolutions like SB 1070, which so clearly sanctions law enforcement on the grounds of race and ethnicity, i.e. “profiling.”

Florence represents a cause of this legislation, as per my earlier point, in that the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the prison company that runs detention centers in Florence, makes a great deal of money because of such legislation, some of which it contributed to the campaign of Jan Brewer, the Arizona Governor who signed SB 1070 into law.

It is also vital to note that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a client of CCA.

So, not only do major corporations profit from anti-immigrant legislation, but the ambiguous language of SB 1070 – drafted with the help of the John Tanton Network group FAIR and their superstar lawyer, Kris Kobach – gives much leniency and discretion to law enforcement. Which is to say, it is an anti-democratic law that doesn’t serve or protect anyone; conversely rather, it subjects them to the nastier sides of the American legal system.

It is also a law that has led to thousands of people being lost to the hallways of Florence: lost without due process, lost without dignity.

With one ICE facility to our left and a CCA center to our right, we could not help but feel the austere absurdity of the situation as we set up camp on a beautiful patio protected by trees. After all, we were legally allowed to be where we were: to cook our meals, to wind down after a long day in the company of friends, to tell stories.

But on either side of us “lived” thousands of people who would be barred from the very patio we so easily made our home.

Anti-immigrant attitudes have not only led to legislation that targets immigrants, it has created laws whose writers are seeking to standardize the restriction of basic human rights. Many detainees are held for months with no representation, no ability to communicate with family, and little understanding of their options.

At the end of another long day cycling through the dry, uninhabited desert, Florence was not a beacon of safety; it was a town illuminated by the lights of a legal system that has failed the people.


Minnie McMahon is a Bay Area environmentalist and gardener.


This is the third blog post in an ongoing series written by riders who participated in the recent Biking Beyond Bigotry bicycling tour. From April 28th to May 5th, ten individuals from across the nation pedaled over 350 miles to speak out against the greening of hate. Along their route from Flagstaff to Tucson, Arizona, the riders spoke with members of local communities across their route. Their messages included immigration myths and facts around population stabilization, the anti-immigrant movement’s attempts to “green” bigotry, and steps that environmentalists can take to counter such attacks. The initiative of this speaking tour was to directly counter the greening of hate through awareness, education, and the formation of alliances to defeat racism disguised as environmentalism.
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