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Justice Department threatens a lawsuit as states follow Arizona’s cue

Last week we gave you a list of states that are going to great lengths to oppose Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation and ensure that immigration enforcement remains in the Federal domain. Today, unfortunately, we have very different news. While human rights advocates, musicians, sports people, police officers and media personalities continue to provide us with endless reasons why Arizona’s harsh SB1070 bill needs to be repealed, lawmakers in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Colorado have already introduced similar bills in their state legislatures. Not to be left behind, similar legislation is being considered in Oklahoma, South Carolina, Idaho, Utah, Missouri, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, and Colorado.

Encouraged by the passage of Arizona’s immigration law, legislators and political candidates in these states are stating their frustration at the Federal government’s inaction in tackling immigration as their reason for introducing bills that increase local immigration enforcement. Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican who introduced legislation modeled on the Arizona law last week said that his bill would leave undocumented immigrants with two options, “leave immediately or go to jail.” He said-

With the federal government currently AWOL in fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to protect American lives, property and jobs against the clear and present dangers of illegal-alien invaders, state lawmakers … are left with no choice but to take individual action to address this critical economic and national security epidemic.

In Minnesota the copycat legislation, drafted by state Rep. Steve Drazkowski and supported by five other state House Republicans, even has the same name as Arizona’s SB1070- “The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act”. According to the Minnesota Independent, this bill (HF3830)-

…would create a Minnesota Illegal Immigration Enforcement Team and require immigrants to carry an “alien registration” card. The bill uses the same “reasonable suspicion” protocol that has generated criticism against Arizona’s law.

This bill has been introduced in spite of the fact that the mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis (the areas in Minnesota with the largest concentration of immigrants) banned government travel to Arizona in protest of SB1070. Moreover, the police chiefs of both these cities have denounced the introduction of the bill in Minnesota, on the grounds that increased enforcement of immigration law by local police is detrimental to them carrying out their jobs of protecting the community-

As the police chiefs for Minnesota’s two largest cities, we oppose HF3830, the Arizona-style legislation recently introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives that pushes local law enforcement officers to the front line on matters of immigration…We believe that mobilizing local police to serve as primary enforcers of federal immigration laws will throw up barriers of mistrust and cause a chilling effect in immigrant communities, impairing our ability to build partnerships and engage in problem-solving that improves the safety of all members of the community. The culture of fear that this bill will instill in immigrant communities will keep victims of crime and people with information about crime from coming forward, and that will endanger all residents.

It is frightening that state legislators are making their decisions in spite of repeated protests from mayors and police chiefs in Arizona and around the country. All we can do is take momentary solace in Attorney General Eric Holder‘s consideration of filing a Federal Government lawsuit against Arizona’s Sb1070. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in Washington D.C. on Sunday, Holder said that  he was worried that enforcement of the law would lead down a “slippery slope” where people would be stopped based on their ethnicity rather than a crime they have committed. He said that the Justice Department was “considering of our options,” and could file the lawsuit either on the grounds that the Arizona law “pre-empted” Federal powers, or on the grounds that it violated Federal civil rights statutes.

According to a committee of human rights experts at the United Nations, the Arizona law not only violates Federal civil rights statutes, but possibly goes against international human rights treaties. Yesterday, a committee expressed serious concerns about the ways in which Arizona’s new law affects minorities, indigenous people and immigrants, potentially subjecting them to discrimination by local authorities. Referring to the clauses in the law that makes it a crime to be in the state without documents, and allows police officers to stop and question a person based on “reasonable suspicion” that they are undocumented, as well as the clause that targets day laborers and makes it a crime for them to solicit work, the UN committee highlighted the probability of the law leading to people being profiled based on their “perceived” ethnic characteristics.

The panel, composed of experts in the field of migrant rights and racial discrimination, critiqued the “vague standards and sweeping” language of the law and raised doubts about the law’s compatibility with International Human Rights treaties, which the United States is a part of. Further, they warned against the law as being allowing for a “dangerous pattern of legislative activity hostile to ethnic minorities.”

The rapidly introduction of bills similar to SB1070 is testament to the fact that this “dangerous pattern” is well on its way. We must ensure that the Federal government and the White House take this as an urgent call to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Write a letter to President Obama telling him to denounce SB1070 and repair the broken immigration system now.

Photo courtesy of flickr.org/dreamactivistorg

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