Arizona was the only territory west of Texas to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy during the Civil War. A century later, it fought recognition of the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. This week, an anti-immigrant bill was signed into law by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. Arizona Senate Bill 1070 empowers state and local law enforcement to stop, question and arrest whoever they suspect may not be in the state legally. The law is an open invitation to sweeping racial profiling and arbitrary detention.
The law ostensibly offers “cooperative enforcement of federal immigration laws throughout all of Arizona.” It provides that a “law enforcement officer, without a warrant, may arrest a person if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.”
Thus, if a police officer suspects a Latino person of being an undocumented immigrant, he or she can lock that person up. Day laborers are targeted. It is illegal to accept (or make) a job offer in some roadside settings, and even makes “communication by a gesture or a nod” in accepting a work offer an arrestable offense. S.B. 1070 goes further, facilitating anonymous reporting of businesses that anyone suspects has undocumented employees.
President Barack Obama denounced the bill, saying: “Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others, and that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe. In fact, I’ve instructed members of my administration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil-rights and other implications of this legislation.”
There is a serious backlash against the bill in Arizona and around the country. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Tucson and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is front and center in opposing the controversial law. He told me: “It’s a license to racially profile. It creates a second-class status for primarily Latinos and people of colour in the state of Arizona. … Arizona’s been the petri dish for these kinds of harsh, racist initiatives.”
Legal groups are mounting challenges to the law. Sunita Patel is a staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. According to Patel, “It allows the local law-enforcement agencies to check not only the FBI databases, which they’ve traditionally always done, it also allows them to sync up with immigration databases, which are notoriously unreliable because of errors with the data entry because they just have incorrect information on citizenship status … so you have this very broad net being cast.”
Grijalva is calling on the federal government to refuse to cooperate with Arizona. “Immigration is a federal law, and if we’re asking the president for him not to cooperate in the implementation of this law through Homeland Security, through Border Patrol, through detention and a noncooperative stance by the United States government and the federal agencies, [it] would render much of this legislation moot and ineffective,” he said.
He also is calling for people to boycott his own state: “I support some very targeted economic sanctions on the state of Arizona. We will be asking national organizations, civic, religious, political organizations not to have conferences and conventions in the state of Arizona. That there has to be an economic consequence to this action and to this legislation. And good organizations across this country, decent organizations that agree with us that this bill is patently racist, that it is unconstitutional and it’s harsh, it’s unjust, that they should refrain from bringing their business to the state.”
Already, the American Immigration Lawyers Association has decided to move its fall 2010 annual conference from Arizona to another state. San Francisco Board of Supervisors member David Campos, saying that Arizona “with a stroke of a pen set the clock back on a generation of civil-rights gains,” is confident that his resolution calling for the city to boycott Arizona will pass. Similar city boycotts are being considered in Oakland, Calif., and El Paso, Texas. Sportswriter Dave Zirin is supporting a boycott of the Diamondbacks, Arizona’s major league baseball team.
Close to 30 per cent of the Arizona population identifies itself as Hispanic. It was a boycott that eventually forced the state to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is a shame that similar tactics are needed again.
Amy Goodman is the co-founder, executive producer and host of Democracy Now!, a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program airing on more than 450 public broadcast stations in North America.