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Arizona’s Harsh Crackdown on Immigrants May Be the Spark the Immigration Reform Movement Needs

Arizona becomes first state in the nation to consider it a crime for a person to be an undocumented immigrant.
 
 
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PHOENIX, Ariz. -- After a week of ongoing protests and acts of civil disobedience, Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070, making Arizona the first state in the nation to consider it a crime for a person to be an undocumented immigrant.

In a press conference this afternoon, Governor Brewer said the state law "mirrors federal law" and claimed that it would not lead to racial profiling. She issued an executive order to provide training to make sure police are clear as to what "reasonable suspicion" is as they carry out the law.

The new law will go into effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session, which is expected to adjourn in the coming weeks.

“I’m disappointed, but not surprised. I believe she’s taken this action for political purposes because she is running for election. It is a poor reason to sign unconstitutional legislation,” said Rep. Kirsten Sinema, D-Phoenix. “The silver lining is that we are going to sue and we are going to win.”

Several legal challenges to keep the legislation from taking effect are in the works by the Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON).

“Arizona would have the same place in history as South Africa,” said Salvador Reza, organizer for the PUENTE movement, which advocates for human rights, comparing the new law to apartheid.

But the passage of the Arizona law may also have ignited the pro-immigration reform movement. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Illinois, is expected to hold a rally in Arizona on Sunday.

“We hope President Obama can join us at the rally to announce swift action the federal government will take to protect the civil rights of its residents,” said Pablo Alvarado, the executive director of NDLON.

President Obama criticized the Arizona bill earlier today, saying it threatens 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.” He called on Congress to enact immigration reform, saying that without a federal overhaul of immigration laws, “we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country.”

Opponents of the bill are holding ongoing protests and planning economic boycotts of the state convention center.

Since early Friday, thousands of people have gathered outside the state capitol, peacefully protesting the bill with signs reading “Veto SB 1070” and “We are human.” A great majority of them are students between the ages of 14 and 17 who walked out spontaneously from school after news of the protest spread through text-messaging. 

Supporters of the bill numbered about a dozen.

There has been a strong police presence and some activists are concerned that the governor’s signing of the bill could lead to acts of violence. 

Before a crowd of peaceful protesters at the capitol, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon spoke passionately against SB 1070 and announced that he would seek approval from the council to seek to stop the bill's implementation through a lawsuit.

SB 1070, also known as the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act,” would allow police officers to arrest a person based on “reasonable suspicion ” that he or she is an undocumented immigrant. Police departments could face lawsuits by individuals who believe they are not enforcing the law.

“This bill criminalizes people who appear to be Latino and puts them at risk for racial profiling and prosecution and harassment in the state,” said Sinema.

“There’s no protection in this bill for people who are witnesses or victims of crimes,” she added. “They’ll be less likely to work with police to keep the community safe.”

SB 1070 would also impose penalties for transporting or harboring an undocumented immigrant, which could include family members.

“This is going to break our families apart,” said Estela, an undocumented immigrant who has two children born in the United States. “My older son will want to stay, but we may have to leave.”

The law would have a devastating impact on undocumented students who were brought to the United States when they were very young, said Carmen Cornejo, executive director of CADENA, a group that advocates for passage of the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for high school graduates who attend college or serve in the military.

“Even though this is going on, we can’t stop going to school, we can’t stop going to work, we still have a life,” said Dulce, a 25-year-old undocumented immigrant who has an engineering degree. “And we shall not fear.”

Dulce says it has been a difficult week for her family as they waited to hear whether the governor would sign the bill. 

“It’s going to be another obstacle,” said the student. “We’ll have to be like we always are, extra careful. They’re not supposed to stop you if you don’t do anything wrong,” said the student. “As an Arizonan and as an undocumented immigrant, I’ll take precautions.”

Dulce planned to attend a protest all day Friday against the bill’s passage.

For immigrant communities, SB 1070 might be the tipping point for action and mobilization after state voters and conservative legislators have passed a series of laws aimed at hardening social conditions in the state to encourage immigrants to leave.

“We’re not going to give up,” said Estela. “We hope that something will be done in the next 90 days.”

Some of the Arizona laws have resulted in U.S.-citizen children going without health care benefits and a number of raids conducted by Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies that have terrorized immigrant communities.

A coalition of businesses and religious leaders has warned that the impact of the new measure could severely damage the Arizona economy.

“SB 1070 is tearing our state into two. It humiliates us into the eyes of America and threatens our economic recovery,” said Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon during a speech on Thursday when he urged the governor to veto SB 1070.

Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, the author of the bill, said the legislation would have the opposite effect. He believes the new legislation will lead immigrants to leave Arizona, causing the state to save money in services it currently provides to the children of undocumented immigrants at schools and hospitals. He has said that states have to take the matter into their own hands in absence of federal enforcement.

The recent death of a rancher on the border connected to violence in the area gave momentum to SB 1070.

Pearce said the legislation would take the handcuffs off law enforcement by allowing them to inquire about a person’s immigration status and would result in a number of immigrants choosing to leave the state.

Ilario and his wife, both undocumented immigrants from Guerrero, Mexico who have lived in the United States for the last 12 years, joined 30 of their neighbors to walk the streets in protest, showing that they refused to remain in the shadows. Ilario knows proponents of the bill want he and his family to leave Arizona, but he is not ready to do that.

“There’s too much at stake for us,” said Ilario in Spanish. “Aquí estamos y no nos vamos.”