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Next Wave of Harsh Anti-Immigrant Laws Introduced in Arizona

“When you put children in a position of feeling threatened, it impacts how they learn,” said a Phoenix principal who has seen enrollment drop, likely due to immigration laws.
 
 
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As dozens of states across the country propose immigration legislation similar to Arizona’s SB 1070, analysts are looking at new legislation expected to be introduced by Arizona lawmakers this year -- to see what might lie ahead for other states.

Earlier this month, Republican legislators unveiled a bill that would re-interpret the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, to deny birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. The bill has not yet been introduced for a vote as legislators cite budget priorities, although other measures likely to affect ethnic communities in Arizona are already on the fast track and being discussed at the State Capitol.

Among those is a Senate resolution that would ask voters to change the Arizona Constitution to prevent state judges from considering international law and other cultures in their judicial decisions.

According to its sponsor, Republican Senator Linda Gray, the bill is not a response to immigration concerns, but about protecting the rights of women. Gray has the support of 20 other Republicans, including SB 1070’s creator, Senator Russell Pearce.

“We are trying to protect the most vulnerable,” said Gray, who believes a ballot initiative passed by Arizona voters would be more difficult to overturn by the Legislature if challenged.

Senator Gray said the law was inspired by the case of a 20 year old woman who was allegedly run over by her father, an Iraqi immigrant, in what prosecutors labeled an “honor killing”, because the father claimed his daughter had dishonored the family by becoming too westernized. The father is still on trial.

Gray said that if judges consider cultural differences and international law in their decisions, it could result in protecting the aggressor in such cases. She cited a New Jersey case in which a Muslim woman who charged her husband with rape had requested a restraining order from a court, only to be denied by a judge who ruled that the husband was acting upon his cultural beliefs.

“We treat women here better than other countries, (so) you have to go by American law, not the intention of another culture or country,” said Gray.

A similar law was declared unconstitutional in Oklahoma and several legal observers agree that the same could happen in Arizona.

“This (legislation) looks like distrust of the judiciary and I don’t think it is justified,” said Aaron Fellmeth, a law professor at Arizona State University.

International law, he said, is recognized within the U.S. Constitution and refers mostly to universally accepted practices, while also providing a framework for how nations interact with one another through treaties.

Fellmeth also emphasized that foreign law and international law are not the same thing. Foreign law, he said, rarely comes into play during U.S. court cases like those cited by Gray, and when it does, most judges will dismiss such a case and refer it to the proper country.

Gabriel Chin, a law professor at the University of Arizona, said the legislation could also cause economic harm. “Because it was not carefully written, it would make Arizona a terrible place to do international or interstate business,” said Chin. “No business could be assured that a treaty or choice of law provision in a contract would apply,” he added.

For that reason, Gray said she is in the process of amending the bill. “We don’t want to do anything to harm businesses,” she said.

But human rights advocates are concerned the resolution will defeat the very purpose for which it was intended.

“It does the exact opposite, if the goal is to protect women’s rights,” said Jaime Farrant, policy director for the Border Action Network. “What this measure would do is stop judges from establishing that rape is a crime against humanity,” he added, citing one example of international law.

 
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