Guestblogger: Vesna Jaksic. Crossposted from the ACLU.
Since parts of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, H.B. 56, took effect, many families have been fleeing the state in fear. Cineo Gonzales, an Alabama resident and a father of two, talks here about those who left in a hurry, including families with children who are American citizens.
“Their children are U.S. citizens and they are running away in their own country,” said Gonzales, a taxi driver who has been receiving calls from many panicked families.
Others stayed behind, but their lives have been anything but normal. During a visit to Alabama last week, many families told me that they now live in constant fear and are scared to go to work, school or the grocery store. From small cities like Albertville to the capital of Montgomery and in between, many Hispanic residents said they are now afraid of getting stopped by the police because the law encourages racial profiling.
“When the law passed, I didn’t work for a week,” a landscape worker from Mexico told me. “I had fear because people said police will see your face and stop you, see you’re Latino.”
The worker, who lives in Montgomery and has been in Alabama for seven years, told me he tries to only drive to work now, and is even scared to do that.
“We work to live,” he said. “If we can’t work, we can’t eat and we can’t live.”
The law affects not only the undocumented, but many legal residents and citizens as well. One high school senior told me his three siblings — all U.S. citizens — are afraid they will be separated from their mother, who is an undocumented immigrant.
“My mom just bought a home in May and she really doesn’t want to move,” said the Birmingham area resident, who is 18. “She spent her whole savings trying to build this home for us.”
He was born in Mexico but has lived in the United States since he was a baby, most of it in Alabama. He is bilingual, gets good grades and has a part-time job after school.
“They brought me here since I was one month old,” he told me. “If I go back, I don’t know what I would do.”
A New York Times /CBS News poll shows that about 60% of the country supports SB1070, Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law, despite it’s harsh provisions that inevitably lead to racial profiling and transform Arizona into something of a police state where everyone has to carry their papers around with them at all times to prove their status. But the same poll also revealed a large majority of people in favor of a comprehensive overhaul of immigration. The fact is SB1070 that puts the federal issue of immigration enforcement into the hands of local law enforcement is not the solution to the country’s broken immigration system, and a whole range of leaders, lawmakers, activists, law enforcement officers and Members of Congress are speaking out loudly against it.
This starts with a number of Republican voices uncomfortable with the law. Former Republican Rep. Bob Barr wrote a strong piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution in which he opposed SB1070 for exercising state police control over an exclusively federal function – protecting our borders and enforcing immigration law. In addition to calling the law troubling because of the “vagueness and breadth” of its provisions, Mr. Barr criticizes it for being “in conflict with traditional notions that the police are not permitted to stop and detain individuals based on mere suspicion.”
Another Republican voice against the Arizona law was that of Florida’s Rep. Connie Mack who thinks that the bill has echoes of Nazi Germany’s Gestapo. He disregarded what is often stated by proponents of the law as an excuse – the Center’s inaction on immigration reform, and said-
This law of “frontier justice”…is reminiscent of a time during World War II when the Gestapo in Germany stopped people on the street and asked for their papers without probable cause. It shouldn’t be against the law to not have proof of citizenship on you…This is not the America I grew up in and believe in, and it’s not the America I want my children to grow up in…Instead of enacting laws that trample on our freedoms, we should be seeking more ways to create opportunities for immigrants to come to our nation legally and be productive citizens.
And last week, on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” California’s Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger spoke out against SB1070. Calling the Congress and White House’s inaction on tackling the issue of immigration “irresponsible,” he called Arizona’s anti-immigrant law “a mess” and said that it was something he “would never do.”
In addition to lawmakers, some of the loudest objections to the law have come from police officers around the country who feel that in addition to inevitably leading to racial profiling, SB1070 takes away the trust that the community has in local law enforcement and divert resources away from focusing on serious crime, making their jobs of enforcing the law much harder.
Opposition also comes from the baseball community which has been buzzing about Arizona. At a game in Wrigley Field with the Chicago Cubs, the Arizona Diamondbacks faced a lot of opposition from the crowd for the immigration law, with fans yelling “Boycott Arizona!” A day later, the Major League Baseball (MLB) Association issued a statement condemning the law, and Rep. Jose Serrano of New York wrote a letter to the baseball commissioner Bud Seligurging him to change the location for the 2011 All-Star game, currently scheduled to be held in Phoenix, as a way of sending a strong message to Arizona lawmakers that the baseball community is against the law.
30% of baseball players are Latino, and with 140 young Latino baseball players scheduled to arrive in Arizona for the Arizona Rookie League in June, MLB officials are concerned. Apparently Arizona is not new to being boycotted by sports teams. In 1993, when Arizona refused to honor the Federal holiday of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the NFL pulled the Super Bowl. Twice burned, maybe the lawmakers need to learn that diverse as this nation’s sports teams are, they won’t tolerate laws that disrespect the diversity and freedom that is integral to this country.
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”.
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.
The passage of SB 1070 by the House of Representatives in Arizona will have chilling repercussions if signed into law by Governor Brewer. The bill dramatically expands police powers to stop, question and detain individuals for not having proper identification, a move that will instigate racial profiling and fear and driving a wedge between groups.
SB 1070 effectively makes it a crime to be undocumented in Arizona, and will be one of the harshest anti-immigrant legislations in the U.S. if it becomes law. The bill passed in Arizona’s House of Representatives and is to be combined with a similar bill that passed in the Senate, after which it is expected to be signed into law Governor Brewer. Senator Russell K. Pearce (R-AZ) who introduced the bill has publicly stated that if it passes, 10 other states will follow suit with similar legislation.
So what’s in it? The bill requires the police to investigate the immigration status of every person that they come across, whom they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is in the country unlawfully. This implies that everyone has to carry their papers with them at all times in order to avoid being stopped, arrested, and detained, effectively fashioning Arizona into nothing short of a police state. Currently, police officers can only inquire about a person’s immigration status if the person is a suspect in a crime. In addition, the bill allows anyone to sue a local, country or state agency if they believe that the agency is not enforcing immigration law, expressly forbids cities from adopting “sanctuary” policies that prevent police from carrying out immigration enforcement, and makes it illegal to solicit work or hire day laborers.
While opponents of immigration have been rooting for this measure for a long time, immigrant rights advocates have unanimously condemned the bill as an affront on the civil liberties of the residents of Arizona. From business groups and faith leaders to municipal governments and police chiefs, the bill has seen increasing opposition. Even within the police, while police unions support the bill, the state police chief’s association has opposed the bill, saying that it will hamper the trust that immigrant communities place in the their services. Outraged by its potential passage, groups like the ACLU, NDLON, Bordern Action Network and national networks have gone into overdrive to protest the bill. According to Alessandra Meetze, President of the ACLU of Arizona,
Instead of working on real solutions to the immigration crisis, our legislators have devised a proposal that is full of shortcuts…Contrary to what proponents of SB1070 say, the bill does not prohibit officers from relying on race or ethnicity in deciding who to investigate…A lot of U.S. citizens are going to be swept up in the application of this law for something as simple as having an accent and leaving their wallet at home.
While Senator Pearce believes the bill simply “takes the handcuffs off of law enforcement and lets them do their job”, in reality, it promotes racial profiling and cements anti-immigrant sentiment already prevalent in Arizona. The grounds of “reasonable suspicion” on which police officers will investigate people about their immigration status will in many cases be based on racial and ethnic grounds. One immigration group, Somos America, likens it to the system operating under apartheid or pre-civil rights America with Jim Crow laws, where people of color were disallowed from entering “white” land, yet were exploited for their labor by the white population. Given Arizona’s infamous Sheriff Arpaio whose dictatorial methods favor neighborhood sweeps, tent city detentions, and racial stops the fear of the misuse of the bill is not far fetched.