Nation Watches as California Court To Hear Appeal on Draconian AZ Immigration Law

When a broken tail light leads to stopping, overcharging and deporting an individual, something is seriously wrong with our law enforcement priorities, our laws and our morals.

As the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals prepares to hear oral arguments on Monday for United States v. State of Arizona, Latinos in California will be watching closely. The case will address the constitutionality of Arizona’s SB 1070 law. SB 1070 is one of the broadest and strictest immigration enforcement measures ever enacted by any state in our nation. The court’s decision will send a strong signal not just to Arizona but to the 13 other states that are now considering similar laws. As an immigration attorney and a first generation Mexican American from Orange County, laws like SB 1070 remind me of how much history repeats itself.

Every day, I see families face deportation due to minor encounters with the law. When a broken tail light is used as a reason to stop, overcharge, and deport an individual, then something is seriously wrong with our law enforcement priorities, our laws, and even our morals. After the Great Depression, Operation Wetback, a strategy enforced by U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services, expedited the deportation of 80,000 “Mexican-looking” Americans, including many Mexicans and Latinos born in the United States and Native Americans.

The movement by states to enact immigration laws and to scapegoat Latinos started in California with Proposition 187. Passed in November 1994, Proposition 187 sought, among other things, to require police, health care professionals, and teachers to verify and report the immigration status of all individuals, including children. Well-funded anti-immigrant groups like FAIR created a blueprint for states and cities to become immigration law enforcement agents. In light of the discrimination that ensued -- even though Proposition 187 was ultimately found unconstitutional -- many view this period as one of the worst moments for Latinos in recent California history. We Latinos in the United States must beware: laws that aim to deport the undocumented will result in the violation of the civil rights of all Latinos.

In the wake of SB 1070, other states are attempting to pass similar or more extreme laws at an alarming rate. Republican state legislator Randy Terrill, who co-authored Oklahoma’s strict 2007 immigration bill (HB 1804), has promised to pursue an even stricter second generation version of the bill that he has called an “Arizona-plus” law. He is undeterred by the fact that key provisions of HB 1804 were ruled unconstitutional by the Tenth United States Circuit Court of Appeals. Arizona’s Republican State Senator Russell Pearce recently announced that state legislators will propose a bill to deny United States citizenship to children born of undocumented immigrants. Even though many, if not all, of these bills will be struck down as unconstitutional, they testify to the current anti-immigrant -- and anti-Latino -- climate.

There is little political will for immigration reform. In fact, both the Democratic and Republican parties see Latinos largely as a source of votes but show scant interest in ensuring that the law treats our community fairly. Even President Obama, who during his race for the presidency promised to bring the change we can believe in and co-opted the United Farm Workers’ slogan “Yes We Can!” has turned his back on us. Obama has earned the label Deportation Czar. Under his watch, more immigrants have been deported since Operation Wetback. As long as the nation lacks comprehensive immigration reform laws similar to SB 1070 will continue to be introduced in states across the country. Right now it is up to our judicial branch to uphold the United States Constitution. We Latinos who can must vote for those whose track records show a commitment to fairness for our community, regardless of party affiliation.

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Laura Sanchez is a staff attorney for the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) in San Francisco.