PHOENIX, AZ. — On April 23, 2010, Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona signed the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (aka Senate Bill 1070), the nation’s toughest bill on illegal immigration into law on Friday. Its aim is to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants. The move unleashed immediate protests and reignited the divisive battle over immigration reform nationally.
Even before she signed the bill at an afternoon news conference here, President Obama strongly criticized it. Speaking at a naturalization ceremony for 24 active-duty service members in the Rose Garden, he called for a federal overhaul of immigration laws, which Congressional leaders signaled they were preparing to take up soon, to avoid “irresponsibility by others.” The Arizona law, he added, threatened “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”
The law, which proponents and critics alike said was the broadest and strictest immigration measure in generations, would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Opponents have called it an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status.
Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was worried about the rights of its citizens and relations with Arizona. It issued a travel alert on April 27, for Mexicans visiting, residing or studying in Arizona, recommending individuals “to act with prudence and respect local laws.” Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles said the authorities’ ability to demand documents was like “Nazism.”
As hundreds of demonstrators massed, mostly peacefully, at the capitol plaza and other cities across the U.S., the governor, speaking at a state building a few miles away, said the law “represents another tool for our state to use as we work to solve a crisis we did not create and the federal government has refused to fix.” While acknowledging opponents’ concerns ethnic and racial profiling, Gov. Brewer insisted that law is an indispensable tool for the police in a border state that is a leading magnet of illegal immigration. She said racial profiling would not be tolerated, adding, “We have to trust our law enforcement.”
Hispanics, in particular, who were not long ago courted by the Republican Party as a swing voting bloc, railed against the law as a recipe for racial and ethnic profiling. “Governor Brewer caved to the radical fringe,” a statement by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said, predicting that the law would create “a spiral of pervasive fear, community distrust, increased crime and costly litigation, with nationwide repercussions.”
While police demands of documents are common on subways, highways and in public places in some countries, Arizona is the first state to demand that immigrants meet federal requirements to carry identity documents legitimizing their presence on American soil.
The bill, sponsored by Russell Pearce, a state senator and a firebrand on immigration issues, has several provisions. It requires police officers, “when practicable,” to detain people they reasonably suspect are in the country without authorization and to verify their status with federal officials, unless doing so would hinder an investigation or emergency medical treatment. The bill makes it a state crime — a misdemeanor — to not carry immigration papers. According to the bill, “it is illegal to transport, move or conceal an alien if the person knows or recklessly disregards the fact that the alien has come to, has entered or remains in the Unites States in violation of the law.” In addition, it allows people to sue local government or agencies if they believe federal or state immigration law is not being enforced.
States across the country have proposed or enacted hundreds of bills addressing immigration since 2007, the last time a federal effort to reform immigration law collapsed. Last year, there were a record number of laws enacted (222) and resolutions (131) in 48 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The law, left unchallenged, will go into effect 90 days after the legislative session ends, around June 28, 2010.
Ethnic Studies Ban
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In addition to signing SB 1070, Gov. Brewer stirred up more controversy on May 12, when she signed HB 2281 into law that bans all ethnic studies classes merely hours after the United Nations condemned the measure. The Tucson Unified School District program offers specialized courses in African-American, Mexican-American and Native-American studies that focus on history and literature and include information about the influence of a particular ethnic group. State schools chief Tom Horne, a Republican running for state attorney general, claims that Arizona ethnic studies programs promote “ethnic chauvinism” and racial resentment toward whites while segregating students by race. Opponents argue that this bill, like SB 1070, is an attempt to single out minorities and marginalize their enormous contributions to American history. The bill also ignores the obvious – that ethnic studies programs were instituted, at least in part, to deal with the lack of diverse studies in public schools. Some opponents of the bill claim it is superfluous, to say the least, because ethnic studies classes have always been optional.
Arizona is now feeling the backlash of its decision and based on the current political climate, the issue is not going away. Human Rights Watch issued a press release on April 30, calling on Arizona to reverse its decision on the grounds that it conflicts with, thus violates, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which the United States ratified in 1994. The ACLU, Amnesty International, National Council of La Raza, UniteArizona and other civil and human rights organizations have expressed similar objections to the law.
As many as 60,000 immigrants and their supporters joined a peaceful march through downtown Los Angeles to City Hall. Waving American flags, tooting horns and holding signs, they blasted the Arizona law. Rallies in more than 90 other cities drew thousands of people from New York to Phoenix. In Tuscon, students walked out of school on April 22 to express their objection to the law. In Washington, D.C., thousands cheered as 35 immigration rights advocates, including U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), were arrested in front of the White House after they disobeyed police orders by sitting on the sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue, calling on President Obama to move an immigration overhaul forward.
In the days leading up to Gov. Brewer’s decision, Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, a Democrat, called for a convention boycott of his state. And it looks as if his request will be granted.
May 5, Phoenix Suns managing partner Robert Sarver, with the unanimous support of his team, came out against Arizona’s SB 1070. As a form of protest, the Phoenix Suns wore “Los Suns” jerseys during Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against San Antonio Spurs in Phoenix.
Sarver, who was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, issued a release yesterday. “However intended, the result of passing the law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question,” Sarver said. “And Arizona’s already struggling economy will suffer even further setbacks at a time when the state can ill-afford them.” The Suns are the first state sports team to take a stance on SB 1070.
On May 11, Phoenix City Council discussed the potential economic impact that Senate Bill 1070 could have on convention and hotel business. A Phoenix official says so far at least one convention has canceled and 15 other contracts have stalled amidst the immigration debate. Arizona’s Hotel and Lodging Association has recorded 23 convention cancellations from this summer all the way to 2013. That could cost the state anywhere from $6 to $10 million.
The Austin City Council voted to cut business and travel ties with Arizona to protest the state’s new law targeting illegal immigrants on May 13. In a 13-1 vote, the Los Angeles City Council approved sanctions against Arizona on May 16. The boycott is expected to affect $8 million in contracts with Arizona. Some analysts estimate that Arizona could lose as much as $90 million dollars if the boycott picks up more momentum. Similar initiatives are underway in several states across America.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon told Reuters that the law “contains elements that are frankly discriminatory, terribly backward.” He says plans to address the issue with President Obama during his trip to the United States this week.