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Weekly Diaspora: Boycotting Arizona

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Anti-immigrant fervor could be more costly than Arizona lawmakers expected. Thanks to SB 1070, a new law that requires immigrants to carry papers at all times to prove their legal status, the state has become the focal point of the national immigration debate. The bill and the buzz surrounding it illustrates a desperate need for a federal fix to the broken immigration system.

President Barack Obama publicly condemned the measure shortly before Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill on April 23, while human rights groups and immigration reform supporters are threatening national boycotts and lawsuits.

SB 1070 makes it possible for local police to racially profile Latinos by allowing them to check a person’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they might be undocumented. It elicits memories of South Africa under apartheid, when blacks were forced to carry passbooks or otherwise risk incarceration. For a good historical perspective of immigration in Arizona, check out Jessica Pieklo’s blog for Care2.

Hidden costs

Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine, joins many bloggers and immigrant rights supporters in calling for a boycott. “Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva is urging a boycott of his own state. San Francisco has already announced its intentions to boycott Arizona,” Rothschild writes. “The response from the Latino community has been instant and outraged. And the upcoming May Day rallies are sure to be huge.”

If threats to boycott simmer down, lawsuits could overturn the bill. At RaceWire, Julianne Hing writes that “Legal challenges to Arizona’s [new immigration law] are coming from all sides. Both the [American Civil Liberties Union] and [the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund] are planning legal action.”

Hing adds that “Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon announced on Friday that his city would bring a lawsuit against [the law]” and that he is joined by “Sara Presler, the mayor of Flagstaff, whose city is exploring its legal options as well.”

Arizona will need to amp up its law enforcement arm to put the bill in action. That won’t be cheap—the state budget is facing a $2 billion shortfall. As William Fisher reports at the Inter Press Service, “In one Arizona county alone, Yuma County, the sheriff estimates that law enforcement agencies would spend between $775,880 and $1,163,820 dollars in processing expenses. Jail costs would run between $21,195,600 and $96,086,720 dollars, and attorney and staff fees between $810,067 and $1,620,134 dollars.”

The ripple effect

Ironically, Arizona lawmakers’ attempts to crackdown on immigrants have galvanized Latinos and immigration reform supporters on a national level. As Suzy Khimm reports in Mother Jones, “In light of the passage of Arizona’s draconian immigration law, advocates have been ramping up the pressure on the Democratic leadership to demonstrate some concrete sign of progress by May 1, when nationwide immigration reform rallies are scheduled.”

At the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen notes how SB 1070 has also created a political quandary for Republican lawmakers in Congress. “So far, only two GOP members — Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — have been willing to criticize the state law,” writes Benen. “If the issue is a test of Republicans’ political and moral seriousness, it appears most of the party caucus on the Hill is content with an ‘incomplete.’”

The anti-immigrant backlash

Immigration reform supporters also know that punitive laws won’t go away until Congress moves to pass reform.  Already, as Jason Hancock at the Iowa Independent reports, “a Republican candidate for congress in Iowa’s 3rd District calling for microchips to be installed in immigrants.”

Pat Bertroche, the candidate, is quoted by Hancock comparing undocumented immigrants to “dogs,” saying “I think we should catch ’em, we should document ’em, make sure we know where they are and where they are going. I actually support microchipping them. I can microchip my dog so I can find it. Why can’t I microchip an illegal?”

Meanwhile, the National Radio Project reports on the lives of gay and lesbian immigrants who live in the United States without papers. Un Jung Lim, a U.S. citizen whose partner was deported after living in the United States for 18 years on a worker visa, tearfully said “We’ve been separated for five months and we hope to be reunited soon, but we don’t know when that’s going to be.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse . This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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