After days of protests, petitions and phone calls, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070 – Arizona’s anti-immigrant and racist bill – into law. The news has hit hard as fears around racial profiling and civil rights violations become paramount. SB1070 gives police officers the powers to stop, detain and arrest anyone they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is undocumented. It also allows people to be charged with harboring and transporting undocumented immigrants (which means if you have an undocumented immigrant with you in the car or at home, you could very well be in trouble) as well as gives police the power to arrest day laborers and those who hire them.
In what many consider a move to save her political career, the Governor was adamant in stating that under no circumstances would the state of Arizona tolerate racial profiling or discrimination. The law prohibits race or ethnicity from being the only factor in assuming someone is undocumented, but allows for it to be one factor among others. The Governor is also issuing an Executive Order that will give police officers additional training in the law to prevent racial profiling. But when asked what does an undocumented person look like, the Governor replied, “I don’t know what an undocumented person looks like”. So the question remains – how will the police know what they look like and what exactly will amount to “reasonable suspicion”. Even more telling was the Governor’s statement that “we have to trust the police” and that “people across the country are watching Arizona” and so it is important to “prove the alarmists wrong”.
Who constitutes these alarmists? A range of folks including police associations, faith based groups, immigration right leaders, and leading civil rights groups. Of these, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP and Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund have come together to denounce the bill, calling it out for making racial profiling the standard and undermining effective community policing by creating distrust between law enforcement and communities of color. Former police chief and founder of the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative has called it “a catastrophe for community policing, with repercussions that will be felt by law enforcement officials across the country.” Even President Obama critiqued the bill for being “misguided” and “irresponsible” at a naturalization ceremony for the armed forces, stating-
The recent efforts in Arizona…threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe. In fact, I’ve instructed members of my administration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation.
MALDEF has already indicated it will challenge the constitutionality of the law and is confident that it will be overturned as it invades the federal realm of immigration and violates equal protection and due process clauses. It is likely the law may never be instituted if that happens, but not until it costs the state of Arizona a pretty penny to defend. A groundswell of opposition at a grassroots level is growing exponentially, and throughout the weekend, events and rallies are expected to turnout out thousands of people across the state.
This act of political symbolism is dangerous to the ideals of America and is likely to have a copycat effect across the country. Even with its eventual defeat, its repercussions will remain for time to come.
Photo courtesy of flickr ri4a.