Coming To A Community Near You? Arizona’s Volatile Immigration Battle


 

"Is this the change you promised us? Barack Obama Where are you? What's next?" Banner at May 1st rally in Los Angeles. More than 50,000 people attended. Photo Credit: Lydia Breen

 If you think  SB1070 has little to do with you or minorities in your community, think again. At least ten states are considering legislation similar to Arizona’s law.  Democratic lawmakers in Washington are  also studying aspects of  to see if it can be used as a template for tough measure on comprehensive immigration reform.   During May 1st demonstrations across the country,    tens of thousands of people called for a boycott of  Arizona , demanding comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. Will Latinos  get President Obama  to make good on his promise of meaningful, just immigration reform? Or will the “Big O” equivocate while nativists  score political points by spreading fear in local communities?  The following article takes a closer look at SB 1070.  ( The bill has not yet gone into effect. Legal challenges could block it all together. 

Maricopa County's Sheriff Joe Arpaio seems as happy as a pig in mud with SB 1070. The bill has emboldened his nativist supporters. Now Arpaio says he may run for governor. Credit: change.org

In Arizona, it seems like the “birthers” are running the ranch,  where folks like  Sheriff Joe Arpaio bask in the glow of the SB 1070.  Even Republicans are split on the bill.  Business and civic leaders in the state are upset  that the backlash from a boycott could have a troubling economic fallout.    The right-of-center  Arizona Republic went on the war path in a front page editorial last Sunday, saying  the bill panders to people’s worst fears about immigrants while doing little to bring about badly needed reform   [Click here to watch a great interview with David Zirin talking about  how pro atheltes are speaking out in favor of a Arizona boycott.]

Congress is responsible for passing laws that will secure our borders and regulate immigration in a just manner.  But, for years,   Congress has lacked the courage to act. Not ones to miss an opportunity, the birthers  (who don’t even believe the President of the United States is legally in the country) are ready to take up the slack. 

Ten states are now considering immigration laws similar to Arizona’s SB1070, including Missouri, Maryland and Nebraska – none of which have high numbers of undocumented people. In Ohio,  sheriff Richard K. Jones is backing a state-wide initiative to get an Arizona-style  bill on the ballot. (This in spite of the fact that Ohio’s Hispanics, most residing legally in the state ,  constitute  2.5% of the state’s population.) 

For some insight on how this plays out in local communities, a new documentary shows how immigration was used to divide a community in Prince William County Virginia, an area far from the nation’s southern border.  Watch “95000 Immigration”.  Click here for  THE TRAILER then check the schedule on the web site to see if it may be playing in a theater near you. 

The voice of tomorrow: "Legalization or No Re-election"

SB1070 – low hanging fruit 

A central measure of the bill would make  it a crime for undocumented people to seek work as day laborers. This targets the poorest of the poor immigrants while doing little to crack down on drug traffickers and terrorists. Nor does it g after sweatshops owners, agribusiness and others  who exploit undocumented workers. 

May 1st rally in Los Angeles protests Arizona SB 1079. Photo Credit: Lydia Breen

 Instruction manual not included 

Under SB 1070, if  a police officer stops someone for any reason, the officer  must inquire about  their immigration status,  provided  the officer has “reasonable suspicion” that  the person stopped is in the country illegally.  (Previously, Arizona law required an officer to ask about immigration status only if a serious crime had been committed or if a serious crime was being investigated. ) 

A few days after it was passed, the bill was amended to say that an officer may not use race as sole grounds for reasonable suspicion.  But it does not specify what criteria  (accent, clothing, demeanor??) should be used.  Further, if a citizen who has reason to believe that someone is in the country illegally, the citizen can require the police to investigate. 

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik didn’t mince words, calling the bill “disgusting,” “racist” and “stupid.”  In an interview on Democracy Now he said: 

“This law will have no impact whatsoever on illegal immigration. None at all. We already have the authority. We didn’t need it…When the law was first passed… every Hispanic in this country, especially in Arizona, must have [felt] like they’d been kicked in the teeth, like they’re now second-class citizens.  They have a target on their back because when they leave the house they’re going to have to take papers with them and prepare to be stopped and questioned. That, overnight, has made Hispanics second-class citizens.  ” – Clarence Dupnik, Pima County Sheriff  

 Officer Martin Escobar, a naturalized U.S. citizen with the Tucson Police Department went further  by saying he would not comply with the bill if it gets passed into law.  Escobar has filed suit against the state saying it is impossible for police to enforce the law in a non-discriminatory 

"Life, Love, Family" a band from the Baldwin Park neighborhood of L.A. participated in the May 1st rally

May 1st Rally focused on Arizona's immigration inequities

manner.  He claims the bill will sour police relations with immigrant communities and hinder investigations of serious crimes.    Not all law enforcement officials agree. Some, like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is delighted with SB 1070, as he continues his raids and rampages in the immigrant neighbors in Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix and Scottsdale.)   But a recent L.A. Times article state that  70% of the people arrested by Sherriff Arpaio and his boys in the  Sherriff’s Department had Spanish surnames. This,  in spite of the fact Maricopa County  is only 31% Latino, most of whom are legal residing in the or U.S. citizens. 

Arpaio, who made his name by profiling Latinos (he says “illegals” are his top priority, more so than drug addicts) and forcing prisoners to endure disgusting conditions,  has  molded his own profile on along the lines of a stereotypical redneck cop.   No matter  Thanks to SB 1070,  the guy liberals love to hate is drooling in the limelight, claiming he may even run for Governor. 

“Help Wanted” , “No Trespassing” 

Faith leaders are taking up the call. Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles spoke out eloquently against the bill,  calling it “unconstitutional ” and racist.  While Mahoney has lost much moral high ground by equivocating over  protecting children who were abused by priests operating under his authority,   he has long been a strong advocate for immigrants’ rights. 

photo credit: Lydia Breen

The cardinal criticized Governor Jan Brewer and Arizona lawmakers for failing to provide a definition of  reasonable suspicion when writing up the bill.  ( “They can’t,” he said in a L.A. Times article.”Because you’d come up with ‘brown skin, black hair and ‘listens to ranchera music.’ “) 

In his recent blog post, “Arizona’s dreadful anti-immigrant law”,   Mahoney writes: “the tragedy of the law is it’ s totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder and consume public resources. That is not only false, the premise is nonsense.” 

Mahoney goes on to describe the inherent contradictions of the bill: “What led the Arizona Legislature to pass such a law is so obvious to all of us who have been working for federal comprehensive immigration reform:  The present immigration system is completely incapable of balancing our nation’s need for labor and the supply of that labor. 

“We have built a huge wall along our southern border, and have posted in effect two signs next to each other. One reads, ‘No Trespassing,’ and the other reads, ‘Help Wanted.’ The ill-conceived Arizona law does nothing to balance our labor needs,” he wrote.– Cardinal Roger Mahoney, Archdiocese of Los Angeles  

A day laborer waits for work where he can get find some support at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, 2008. Credit: NY Times Institute

Church members will not comply 

Other faith leaders are also speaking out. The Reverend Alison Harrington, pastor at Southside Presbyterian Church recently told a large crowd of the faithful: 

It is immoral, unethical and unjust; and as faith leaders we are called to struggle against sin, to call our leaders into repentance and to call our community into action. 

The new bill forbids citizens to hire and/or transport undocumented people.  But members o faith communities around Tucson Arizona say they drive  undocumented people to Sunday church services.  Calling the bill a “sin,”  Harrington and others say they will not comply with the law. 

Big Brother:  binoculars and a database 

It’s hard to see where all this is going without a national biometric identification card, to be required by all working citizens.  The current draft of the Democrats bill in Congress proposes as much, preferring the more palatable term “biometric employment verification.” But groups like the ACLU have strong concerns about the proposal.’s impact on our privacy – a on-going battle during the Bush Administration. 

Concern that fear mongering on immigrant issues will lead to an erosion of our privacy were underscored by an article published Sunday in the Arizona Republic.  The article describe an increased use of surveillance cameras throughout Phoenix,  which Arizona ACLU’s Executive Director Alessandra Soler Meetze said may lead to a “surveillance society”  without a  transparent reporting process in place. 

Adding weight to the argument, Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein wondered  if Republicans wondered where Republicans will stand on the issue of identity cards.  Will they try to sink the idea as another attempt by  Big Brother Obama  to stick his nose in our business? Or will they let the idea fly, as they did by giving  Bush got a green light to fight terrorists by accessing citizens private telephone numbers. 

 A country forged by dreams 

The dreams, talents and hard work of our immigrant ancestors shaped this country.  While it is true that we now live in different time, with different pressures on our resources,  the values that guide us are the same as they were when our country was founded. 

The dream goes on

Current day immigrants continue to help keep our country strong.  At a time when we are face with so many complex, difficult questions, we need all the help we can get.   SB 1070 could set a tone that codifies a system of second class citizenship.   It is a concern that compelled Archbishop Desmond Tutu – a man all too familiar with pass laws – to write: 

I am saddened today at the prospect of a young Hispanic immigrant in Arizona going to the grocery store and forgetting to bring her passport and immigration documents with her. I cannot be dispassionate about the fact that the very act of her being in the grocery store will soon be a crime in the state she lives in. Or that, should a policeman hear her accent and form a “reasonable suspicion” that she is an illegal immigrant, she can — and will — be taken into custody until someone sorts it out, while her children are at home waiting for their dinner. – Archbishop Desmond Tutu  

———————–  

In 1985, two years after the birth of her son in Tucson, Lydia Breen produced and directed the  documentary, “The Lord Is Blessing Me…”about Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson and the decision  members made to declare their church a sanctuary for Central American refugees fleeing the fighting in their region. Reverend John Fife, then Southside’s  minister along with several church members were arrested and convicted of harboring  illegal immigrants. Now retired, John Fife and current pastor, Rev. Alison Harrington, and others at  Southside  say they will refuse to comply with SB1070. 

 

One response to “Coming To A Community Near You? Arizona’s Volatile Immigration Battle

  1. Pingback: Undocumented Students: Change They Can Believe In « Cafe Libre

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