Valeria Fernández

Three Years After Passing Its 'Papers, Please' Law, Arizona Is Divided by Distrust and Fear

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Police pulling people over for minor infractions and asking for documents, rape victims too afraid to call the police, children living in fear of having their parents taken away. 

These were some of the stories shared by community members and immigrant advocates in Arizona, who testified before a state civil rights board this week on the enforcement of a state immigration law they say has increased racial profiling and police mistrust.

“SB 1070 is being used as a tool to intimidate and hurt communities, “ Lydia Guzman, national chairman of the League of United Latin American Citizens’ (LULAC) Immigration Committee, told the board. 

Almost three years after the bill was signed into law making it mandatory for police to contact immigration authorities if they suspect someone was in the country illegally, the Arizona Civil Rights Advisory Board (ACRAB) heard testimony from undocumented immigrants themselves. 

The board is a volunteer group of bipartisan members appointed by the governor that has the power to make recommendations to different state agencies, but doesn’t create policy.

Dan Pochoda, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said that a pronouncement from the board could have a deterrence effect, helping to curb racial profiling by law-enforcement agencies in the state.

For example, in 2008, the board wrote a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) urging an investigation into alleged racial profiling by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. It also asked immigration authorities to rescind a 287(g) agreement that allowed deputies to act as immigration officers. 

In both cases, pressure from the board as well as others yielded results, prompting a DOJ investigation and the reversal of the 287 (g) agreement. 

“They can put pressure and make public statements, even if they can’t order a particular sheriff to change practices,” said Pochoda.

Pochoda urged the board to recommend that law enforcement start tracking data and statistics of traffic stops to detect racial profiling, and have policies to prohibit the referral of victims and witnesses of crimes to immigration authorities.

Board chairman Jeff Lavender said he would look into the possibility of making such a recommendation.

Pochoda also addressed the situation of Dreamers, who are in the process of applying for deferred action, and sometimes are subject to detention by police officers who are unclear about their immigration status due to SB 1070 provisions.

Cesar Valdes, was pulled over by Phoenix police over his car’s registration – that turned out not to be expired-- but was held for almost a full day until immigration could confirm he was applying for deferred action.

“There has to be something in place, because I’m not the only one,” said Valdes in his testimony. “There’s been several cases of Dreamers like me [who] have been detained and put in detention for more than 20 hours.”

Dulce Juarez, a coordinator of the immigrant rights project for ACLU, said the group has documented over 500 calls through its hotline since the implementation of SB 1070. 

Her agency has identified cases in which police questioned witnesses and victims of crimes about their immigration status, as well as passengers in vehicles with no reasonable suspicion of any crime being committed.

State of Fear 

The board heard a wide array of testimony that pointed out how SB 1070 has been used as an excuse to racially profile people, or as an intimidation tactic.

LULAC's Guzman testified about the case of an 11-year-old girl who was raped. The rape went unreported, and her pregnancy carried on as she lived under the threat that her rapist was going to report her family to immigration authorities. The case was finally reported to police when it came to Guzman’s attention.

“This could have been caught earlier,” Guzman said.

Several mothers testified about feeling unsafe.

“I’m scared of taking my child to school, and I’m also afraid to go to the store. I’m worried about my husband when he goes to work, because I don’t know if he’ll return,” said Rosalba Posadas, an undocumented immigrant.

Others like Maria Vargas, are worried about the safety of their children in school. 

“We’re afraid of these people [who] are volunteers of the sheriff. We don’t know who they are and they’re patrolling our children’s schools,” said Vargas, referring to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office posse that mobilized in response to school shootings.

The majority of the testimonies detailed encounters with police officers by Latino citizens and immigrants, where the reason for the stop was a minor traffic violation or no violation at all. For those who were undocumented, it triggered a process of deportation. 

SB 1070 was enjoined as soon as it took effect on July 29, 2010 by federal judge Susan Bolton in the District Court of Phoenix, blocking several parts of it, including a provision that made it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant. Another part -- known as section “2b”-- took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the injunction on June 2012, making it mandatory for police to ask for documents.

“It became very clear that the section 2b was really a legalization [of] racial profiling,” said Isabel Garcia, attorney and director of the pro-immigrant coalition, Derechos Humanos in Tucson, Ariz. 

Garcia added her voice to those of several other civil and human rights groups like the ACLU that have hotlines to document allegations of racial profiling and other forms of police abuse connected to immigration enforcement.

“The difference between Phoenix and Tucson is that in Tucson you’re deported within two hours,” she said, due to its proximity to Mexico and the presence of a Border Patrol station.

Flores, who was appointed to the board by former Democratic governor and now secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, lauded the courage of those who were willing to speak out.

“We heard some very powerful stories, so many brave people [who came] here and admitted their status to us, “ she said. 

“I didn’t even know that there was a board,” said Viridiana Hernández, a founder of Team Awesome, a Latino vote mobilization group and a Dreamer, adding: “What I hate about this forum is that we come and talk, it happens year [after] year. 

"My question is what are you going to do as a Civil Rights Advisory Board?”

Arizona Conservatives Back Substantial Immigration Reform

In 2010, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery was among those firmly in support of Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant legislation SB 1070. Today, he belongs to a bipartisan coalition of some 40 community and business leaders calling for legalizing the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

“If you look at the problem from a proper perspective, you can identify solutions that provide consensus,” said Montgomery in an interview with New America Media. 

His comments came just hours after the release of the Real Arizona Coalition’s S.A.N.E Solution to Federal Immigration Reform, representing a broad array of interests, including the immigrant rights community, law enforcement and local agriculture. 

The plan calls for, among other things, the creation of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants via a temporary visa granted those who pass a background check and agree to a fine. The coalition hopes the platform can ultimately serve as a catalyst for Congress to draft a solution to the country’s longstanding immigration impasse. 

“Important conservative principles are reflected in this platform,” Montgomery continued, referring to provisions within the plan addressing border security. “Commitments to operational control (of the border) and continued enforcement are two hallmarks of what conservatives have believed all along to be necessary components of any federal immigration resolution.”

Other sections of the S.A.N.E. plan focus on reducing wait times for applications, increasing the number of work visas available based on market need and granting green cards to graduates from colleges or universities.

“It’s a recognition that for us to accomplish something we can’t just focus on one component at a time,” Montgomery explained. He said the changes would create legal paths for those seeking entrance into the country, while “eliminating the avenues” for those looking to enter unlawfully. 

Not an Amnesty

While the legal details have yet to be worked out, under S.A.N.E those deemed eligible for temporary visas could be required to return to their country of birth if they want to apply for citizenship. Drafters say they have yet to reach full agreement on this point, though they note that those brought here as youth – commonly referred to as Dreamers – will be exempt. 

Montgomery insisted that whatever the final decision, the aim is to ensure that citizenship will be attained in a lawful way.

He also rejected descriptions of the plan as a form of amnesty.

“Even if you sought to deport those present without lawful authority they have U.S. citizens for children and so you want to deport 50 million people, roughly 30 million children with them,” he said. “I don’t want to be living here when those 30 million citizens exercise their right to return and are ticked off.”

The Real Arizona Coalition came about in the aftermath of passage of SB 1070, which brought with it a severe economic downturn as tourists shunned the state while close to 100,000 immigrant families fled to other parts of the country.

“I don’t think our effort right now to achieve a federal immigration solution is necessarily predicated on [the fact] that Arizona did something wrong,” said Montgomery. “We felt an enforcement gap created by federal inaction and SB 1070 was one example of what Arizona tried to do.”

Bringing Conservatives on Board

Montgomery was elected in 2010 after his predecessor, former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas resigned to run in an unsuccessful bid for Arizona Attorney General. Since then he has pursued a law enforcement policy similar to that of his predecessor, including prosecuting cases of identity theft involving those caught in sweeps of local businesses that hire undocumented workers. 

“I’m in an enforcement position, [and] we’re still going to continue to do that. But there’s an overarching issue that needs to be resolved,” he said.

Montgomery insisted there is an opportunity for other conservatives to get on board with S.A.N.E, which he hopes carries with it ripple effects across the country.

Following the recent presidential race, in which Latino voters proved a key voting bloc in Obama’s victory, the tone of the immigration debate took a sharp turn, with conservatives in the lead. 

Former President George W. Bush recently joined the ranks of GOP members calling for immigration reform. And late last month, soon-to-retire Republican Arizona senator Jon Kyl presented the ACHIEVE Act to the U.S. Senate, a bill that would grant permanent legal status to undocumented youth.

Montgomery said Arizona stands to benefit immediately from S.A.N.E’s guidelines.

“At the end of the day, if we address these particular issues at the federal level, I dare say we won’t see the same level of criminal activity associated with drug and human smuggling and cartels,” he said. “I would say we would have a greater sense of border security.”

S.A.N.E already has the endorsement of a number of high profile figures in Arizona, including Phoenix Democratic Mayor Greg Stanton, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Republican Senator Bob Worsley, who took over after SB 1070 architect Russell Pearce lost his seat in a recall.

“I think this is a unique moment in time, where we have a couple of years focused on enforcement only, and I think after the presidential election and poor showing of the Republican party with the Latino community, anyone considering our future as a party needs to know we need to have a more Latino friendly platform,” said Worsley.

Worsley is meeting with other Republicans to get the platform moving, including Republican Congressman Jeff Flake.

“This will be the next big thing that gets worked on,” said Worsley. “I think it will come very close to where we are, because this has been a lot of the different constituencies negotiating.”

Will Brewer Get on Board?

Arizona Republican governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law in 2010, a move most political observers said guaranteed her re-election.

Members of the Real Arizona Coalition said there was a representative from the governor’s office attending most of the meetings held to draft the platform over the past 8 months.

Brewer, who is currently out of state on official business, was not available for comment, said Matt Benson, a spokesperson for the governor. 

She has made headlines nationally for issuing an executive order to ban licenses for youth that qualify for a reprieve from deportation under a program from the Department of Homeland Security.

And while the tone among conservatives has been shifting toward favoring some form of immigration reform, Brewer has received heavy criticism for staying to the right of this issue.

“What the governor is doing to address circumstances here in Arizona is not inconsistent or mutually exclusive to what we’re doing here today,” said Montgomery. “The governor needs to do what she’s doing on behalf of Arizona, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still take a look at what has to happen at a federal level.”

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Same-Sex Marriage Meets the Immigration Debate

PHOENIX, Ariz. — David used to be one of those people who say: “Get out of our country if you don’t belong here.” That was until he fell in love with an undocumented immigrant.

After seven years of living together, David, an American citizen, worries about his same-sex partner’s ability to remain in the country. Guille, 38, came to the U.S. over nine years ago from Colombia, and his tourist visa has expired.

While federal immigration laws allow heterosexual residents to sponsor their spouses to immigrate to the country, gay and lesbian couples are not afforded the same benefit.

“My rights are being denied because Guille is a ‘boy,’” said David, 48, who asked for both of their last names to be withheld because of his partner’s immigration status.

A bill introduced in Congress last February might open up new options for couples like David and Guille.

The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their same-sex partners to immigrate legally to the country in the same way heterosexuals sponsor their spouses. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Immigration Equality are supporting the bill submitted by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D.-N.Y.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.).

UAFA would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to add definitions for “permanent partner” and “permanent partnership” that would include same sex-couples in a committed relationship.

The bill provides same-sex partners the same benefits as heterosexual couples. It also includes provisions to deter fraudulent partnerships, which could be punished with prison sentences of up to five years and a $250,000 fine.

For supporters of the bill, it boils down to family unity.

“This is about whether they can be a couple at all,” said Immigration Equality executive director Rachel B. Tiven. “To say to someone ‘you can’t be a couple, you can’t be a family because you’re gay’ is just cruel.”

The absence of provisions in federal law that contemplate same-sex couples have forced many to make difficult choices, Tiven said.

A recent news story about a lesbian couple –Jay Mercado, an American woman, and Shirley Tan, her partner from the Philippines– illustrates the challenges. Despite having lived together for over 23 years and getting married in San Francisco, the government tried to deport Tan denying her claim for asylum. Eventually, Tan got to stay thanks to a private bill submitted by a California lawmaker.

More than 36,000 gay and lesbian Americans could benefit from this change in the law, according to the 2000 Census and research conducted for Immigration Equality by the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law. UAFA would not change the situation for people who entered the country illegally, but could benefit those like Guille with an expired visa.

“It’s been a struggle, once your visa expires you have nothing,” said Guille, 38, who drives around town with an outdated Florida driver’s license. David often worries about Guille, especially in Phoenix where there is an intense crackdown on illegal immigration by the local sheriff’s office.

Advocates recognize that with the economy being a priority, the the bill’s chances this year are slim. But some are hopeful that there’ll be support from the Obama’s administration.

In a March 26th article published in Bay Windows, a statement by White House spokesman Shin Inouye offers hope. “The president thinks Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their country. We will work closely with Congress to craft comprehensive immigration reform legislation,” Inouye said.

Couples like Guille and David have a different perspective when it comes to UAFA.

“You’re mixing groups of people that some in the U.S. don’t want to give rights too,” said David. He believes any type of immigration reform should be part of a larger comprehensive approach that focuses on the economic benefits and contributions of immigrants.

“It needs to be done in a way that does not allow extremists to preach against it,” he added. “I think this bill needs to be more educational than anything else.”

Tiven remains positive. Since the bill was introduced it has picked up support from 100 cosponsors in the House and twenty in the Senate.

“Ultimately we want it to pass, we want total equality for gay and lesbians couples,” Tiven said. “We’ll work hard on any solution. Whether is as a stand-alone bill or part of comprehensive immigration reform.”

Some believe the bill has a better chance of passing on its own than as part of a larger comprehensive immigration package.

“The issue of illegal immigration and those who are illegally in the country is too politically charged,” said Linda Elliot, co-chair of the Public Policy Committee at the Human Rights Campaign. “We have to do this in steps.”

Elliot believes it would be easier to gather public support for a bill that addresses committed couples trying to stay together by finding a way to migrate legally into the U.S.

Currently, at least twenty countries including Canada, the United Kingdom and Israel allow citizens and legal residents to sponsor their same sex partners for legal immigration.


Happy Holidays!