Opinion: The Politics of Immigration and America's Pastime

Do politics have a place in sports? The debate is as polarizing as most political issues themselves.

Carlos Santana made headlines earlier this week for speaking out against immigration legislation in Arizona and Georgia at the Major League Baseball Civil Rights game in Atlanta. Santana was on hand to receive the Beacon of Change award as part of the event’s festivities.

The musician drew boos for criticizing both laws and those who support them. Georgia’s new law has been compared to the controversial immigration legislation passed last year in Arizona.

Both bills address the issue of illegal immigration at the state level, and among other provisions, grant local law enforcement the authority to check a suspect’s immigration status and take those without proper documentation into custody.

“This law is not correct. It's a cruel law, actually," Santana told media at the event. "This is about fear. Stop shucking and jiving. People are afraid we're going to steal your job. No we aren't. You're not going to change sheets and clean toilets.

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“This is the United States. This is the land of the free," he added. "If people want the immigration laws to keep passing, then everybody should get out and leave the American Indians here."

His message was powerful.

“I am here to give voice to the invisible," added Santana, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico in the 1960s.

There is tremendous irony in Santana being booed for calling attention to what he, and many others, view to be a civil rights issue – at a game dedicated to recognizing the issue of civil rights.

Certainly, there are moments when politics have been inappropriately injected into sporting events. But Santana was at the event to be recognized for his efforts to enact change. It wasn’t as if he happened to be on hand to sing the national anthem and instead decided to make a political statement.

Santana didn’t walk on to the field and interrupt the action. He was handed a microphone, and he spoke at a civil rights-billed event about people’s rights.

The audacity.

There will always be two camps. After all, as Michael Jordan responded when asked to endorse a Democratic candidate, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” His words have become synonymous with keeping any kind of remotely politically charged issue out of sports.

However, the issue of immigration isn’t about selling sneakers. It’s about people. As much as baseball prides itself on integrating the game in a segregated society – as illustrated at Sunday’s Civil Rights Game between the Braves and Phillies – Major League Baseball has done little to address the immigration issue.

With 28 percent of its players born outside the United States, it’s not even a political issue for the league as much as an issue that directly impacts its personnel. (The MLB Players Association took a stance opposing the Arizona law.)

With the MLB All-Star Game set for July 12 in Arizona, expect the two sectors to again collide. Calls to move or boycott the game have come from fans, opponents of the law, politicians and even players themselves.

Such a bold step would not be unprecedented. Super Bowl XXVII was shifted from Tempe, Ariz., to Pasadena, Calif., in 1993 because Arizona refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday.

However, Bud Selig and Major League Baseball have decided to carry on with the game as planned, well aware of the debate and controversy that would surround it. While the Arizona legislation appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, the immigration debate in this country continues to grow.

If Santana’s remarks and reception are any indication of what to expect later this summer, we’ll see this issue become even more heated – on and off the field.

Maria Burns Ortiz is a freelance sports journalist, chair of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Sports Task Force, and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow her on Twitter: @BurnsOrtiz

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