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Vulnerable communities react to Arizona’s new law

Last Thursday, 10 year old Katherine Figueroa sat in a room in a Capitol Hill building in Washington DC telling Members of Congress about her personal encounter with immigration enforcement. Fighting back the tears, the young girl pleaded to the Democratic Members of Congress who were assembled, “Please tell President Obama to stop putting parents in jail, all they want is a better life for their kids.”She told the story of how her aunt took her in after her parents were arrested by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies. “I would also have bad dreams where the Arpaio deputies would take my aunt, her family and me to jail,” Katherine said. This brings to mind the poignant question from a second grader that caught the First Lady Michelle Obama off guard last month, with her honest fear for her family momentarily forcing the issue out of the political realm and into reality.

Katherine’s testimony was part of an ad-hoc Congressional hearing that took place in a packed committee room on Capital Hill and was attended by Democratic Members of Congress. One of the witnesses, Silvia Rodriguez, thanked Colorado Democrat Jared Polis for referring to her as an “American,” saying that it was one of the first times she had ever been called one. Her testimony and obvious pain brought tears to Rep. Polis’ eyes.

The event, a forum for Members of Congress to hear the stories of  women and children who were directly affected by Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070, had been organized by Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva and a number of labor and civil rights organizations such as the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the National Domestic Worker Alliance, the AFL-CIO, the Family Values at Work Consortium and Jobs with Justice. The aim of the hearing was to illustrate the direct impact that extreme immigration enforcement measures such as SB1070 have on women and children, who are the most vulnerable members of immigrant populations, to demonstrate the extremely urgent need for a comprehensive overhaul of existing immigration laws, and to pressure the Obama administration and Congress to prevent the implementation of SB1070. Silvia Rodriguez, the witness mentioned earlier, appealed directly to President Obama at the end of her testimony. She said,

The only time that I felt to be the slightest happy, or accepted or proud by this country was when President Obama won his presidency. For him to not step up and fulfill his promises, really, really breaks a lot of hearts.

President Obama’s campaign promise of immigration reform fade from memory as such legislation looks less and less probable in this election year. Unless blocked by any of the five legal challenges that have been filed since Gov. Brewer signed the bill in to law on April 23rd, SB1070 is scheduled to take effect on July 29th. In addition to the horrific stories presented by the women at the June 10th hearing, community groups such as Puente, working on the ground in Arizona, have reported a massive increase in incidents of racial discrimination since the law was signed. While race has always been directly linked to immigration law, measures such as SB1070 have spurred on more instances of discrimination such as the case of a blood bank in Arizona refusing to take the blood of people who only speak Spanish.

Opposition to the tough measure has been coming from all sides, and most minority groups and communities of color worry that they will be targeted by its harsh clauses that allow police to stop and question people based on the degree to which they appear “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented. Most recently, the country’s largest Native American reservation, the Navajo National Council, voted to officially oppose Arizona’s new enforcement measure during a special session convened for this purpose. Council Delegate Kee Allen Begay sponsored the measure which he thinks will definitely be used to harass Native Americans, specially given the strong resemblance between the Hispanic communities and Native Americans.

As opposition to the law grows, so does copy-cat legislation in other states across the country. On Saturday, Texas Republicans voted for a law that would require police officers to immediately check the immigration status of people arrested on suspicion of a crime, even before their culpability on the crime has been proven.  It is imperative that the Federal government wakes up to the large-scale detrimental effects that a laws like Arizona’s SB1070 will have on communities, on state unity, and on the economy.

Photo courtesy of csmonitor.com

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