Arizona’s Folly

By: Grainne Rhuad

I am talking on the phone with an acquaintance who is telling me about a vegetable co-op they are heading up.  When I ask where they are getting the vegetables they say Arizona.

“But why?”  I ask, “When produce is fresh and cheap where you are?”

“Because,” they answer, “It is cheaper to get it from Arizona.  They have more laborers.”

This person then goes on to extol the virtues of the new Arizona immigration laws and my head starts to spin.

We are living in a time when people are afraid.  This fear has been nurtured by everyone from mums and dads who tell their kids to stay in sight to media that constantly warns us by video and ticker-tape that we must wash, tape, arm and be vigilant.  The results of this kind of fear are myriad but in Arizona the result has come to fruition in persecution.

On April 23, 2010 Governor Jan Brewer (R) signed into law SB1070.  The law would require the police “when practicable” to detain people they reasonably suspected were in the country without authorization. It would also allow the police to charge immigrants with a state crime for not carrying immigration documents. And it allows residents to sue cities if they believe the law is not being enforced.

The Arizona law is being passed in the context of federal programs, such as “Secure Communities,” which allow local and state law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. They also serve to put Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) in charge of local law enforcement, with local and state agencies coming under their command in raids and other enforcement activities. The federal programs, like “Secure Communities” and “287g,” together with the ICE raids, have already unleashed the terrorizing and collective punishment of communities which a lot of people feel are themselves crimes by the government. They have also unleashed widespread racist government profiling, arrests and searches without probable cause, and mass deportations across the country. Indeed, while SB 1070 was being debated, a massive ICE raid using 800 agents terrorized four communities in Arizona, including Phoenix and Tucson.

The law specifically allows any Arizona resident to sue to force the police, or conceivably landlords, or school officials, to have people they “reasonably suspect” to be undocumented, arrested. It also forbids actions such as sanctuary cities. Out of state drivers are targeted as well. Officials in Phoenix, for example, say they will require out-of-state drivers to have a passport or visa or be subject to arrest.

This law addresses a range of issues relating to immigration. Some concerns are as follows:

•  It Prohibits state, city or county officials from limiting or restricting “the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.” This means that local ordinances permitting sanctuary cities or towns are outlawed. The law also allows any person to “bring an action in Superior Court to challenge any official or agency” that “adopts or implements a policy that limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws. This portion of the law is specifically directed at law enforcement agencies, as well as churches or others attempting to provide sanctuary. It anticipates that some police forces may attempt to simply not enforce the law. To counter this, anyone can bring suit demanding that police fully enforce SB1070.

• It Requires law enforcement to make a reasonable attempt “when practicable” to determine the immigration status of a person “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person” is “unlawfully present in the U.S.” The person does not have to be committing or even be suspicious of committing a crime. The term “reasonable suspicion” also requires even less than the usual “probable cause” to stop a person. Officers do not have to act “if the determination may hinder or obstruct an investigation.” The immigration status is to be verified by the federal government. Individuals determined to be in the country without documentation are turned over to the federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Local and state officials can also choose to take an individual to any federal facility in the state, including those outside of their jurisdiction.

• It Makes it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant, by creating a state charge of “willful failure to complete or carry an alien registration document.” The misdemeanor charge carries a $500 fine. A second offense automatically becomes a felony charge. For state residents, an Arizona driver’s license is considered proof of citizenship. A person without a license must carry their birth certificate or other government issued identification or immigration document, like a green card, to prove status. For people from out of state, a passport or visa is required. As Phoenix Vice Mayor Michael Nowakowski put it, police should request citizenship proof from everyone they stop in order to avoid charges of racial profiling. He added, “Anyone who drives in the city of Phoenix and gets pulled over better have a passport or a visa.”

• It Makes it a state crime of “trespassing” if a “person is present on any public or private land” in Arizona and is without documentation proving citizenship or residency. It is also a misdemeanor charge with a $500 fine that becomes a felony on a second offense.

• It Makes it a crime for undocumented immigrants to work or solicit work in Arizona.

• It Makes it a crime to pick up a day laborer for work if the vehicle impedes traffic while doing so. Make it a crime to be picked up as a day laborer if the vehicle they get into is impeding traffic.

• It Makes it a crime to “conceal, harbor or shield an undocumented immigrant if the person knows or recklessly disregards the immigrant’s status.” This means anyone who lives with an undocumented person, including spouses or children or other family members, is guilty of a crime. There is a legal defense for someone providing emergency, public-safety or public health services to undocumented immigrants. However, it is the state that determines if such services are being provided. Many churches, social service and health organizations are concerned they and the people they serve will be targeted.

• It Allows law-enforcement officials to arrest a person without a warrant if they have “probable cause to believe the person has committed a public offense that makes him or her removable from the U.S.” The federal government requires deportation for any conviction for an “aggravated felony,” even one from years ago. It has also included minor non-violent offenses like shoplifting, DUI, and possession of any quantity of any illegal drugs, under the category of “aggravated felony.” Many documented immigrants living 10 years and more in the U.S., are already being deported, with more than half of all deportations made from people detained in Arizona.

• It Allows law enforcement to stop a driver if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the driver is in violation of human-smuggling and any civil traffic law. “Smuggling of human beings” is defined as “the transportation, procurement of transportation or use of property or real property by a person or an entity that knows or has reason to know that the person or persons transported or to be transported are not U.S. citizens, permanent residents or persons otherwise lawfully in this state or have attempted to enter, entered or remained in the U.S. in violation of law.” This means a citizen whose spouse or children are undocumented is guilty of “smuggling,” as is someone driving fellow workers to work. A carload of people that look like immigrants can be stopped for no reason, or for traffic tickets or similar violations. If the driver or others in the car cannot prove citizenship or residency, all can be jailed and the car impounded.

• It Requires employers to keep E-Verify records of employees’ eligibility. E-verify is notoriously wrong concerning verification, with many people wrongly identified as without documentation. Employers who knowingly employ undocumented workers do not face criminal charges but can lose their licenses.

All of this was immediately met with action from those in favor of and those opposing the bill.  Boycotts on Arizona have been announced by truck drivers.  Businesses have withdrawn plans to hold conferences in Arizona.  Writers, artists and musicians who make annual pilgrimages to Arizona for inspiration have announced they will be staying away until this bill is reversed.   People from all over the nation have cancelled reservations to vacation there.  With Arizona depending in large part on tourism, this hits them especially hard.  And, on Wednesday, May 12, 2010, Los Angeles became the largetst city yet to boycot the state of Arizona. With the city council voting 13-1 to bar L.A. from conducting buisiness with Arizona unless the law is overturned.   It is estimated this boycott alone will cost Arizona approximately 8 million dollars in revenue.

President Obama strongly criticized it while speaking at a naturalization ceremony for 24 active-duty service members in the Rose Garden; he called for a federal overhaul of immigration laws, which Congressional leaders signaled they were preparing to take up soon, to avoid “irresponsibility by others.”

The Arizona law, he added, threatened “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

The Mexican Embassy released the following statement:

“The Embassy of Mexico is deeply concerned by the potentially dire effects that the final enactment of legislative initiatives, such as SB 1070 currently under discussion in Arizona, may have for the civil rights of Mexican nationals. As it has been raised by national Latino and immigrant rights organizations, initiatives that exclusively criminalize immigration create opportunities for undue enforcement of the law through racial profiling.

Mexico also observes with concern the likelihood of negative effects that this measure, should it be approved, may have for the future development of tourism, commercial, friendship and cultural ties that have characterized the relationship between Mexico and Arizona for generations, particularly with the State of Sonora.

Through its vast consular network, the Government of Mexico will continue to provide any and all consular assistance required by our nationals in this country in order to guarantee the protection and full exercise of their fundamental rights regardless of their immigration status.”

The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police and several sheriffs have also come out against the law, calling it burdensome and an intrusion into a federal matter. With most police agencies already checking immigration status of those who come into custody, this new law seems unnecessary and indeed expands the powers of the police to the point that abuses are bound to occur.

Personally I have been on a waiting list for a timeshare in Arizona that is never available, this week I received a call with a tired sounding operator hoping that I would take the reservation.  I had to decline, when giving my reasons why I was told that this is hurting Arizonians and it is.

But it should be.  Arizonian voters passed this law, what they fail to recognize is the bulk of their income comes from migrant workers; in the fields, in the hotels and resorts, in the galleries and restaurants.

However what is less on people’s minds is how this law could affect all of us.  The law calls for what is in effect a police state, in which anyone who is suspected of being an immigrant can be hauled in.  Right now people are thinking in terms of Mexicans; however this could affect someone who seems Icelandic or Turkish.  Have you been playing your Celtic music too loud?  Your neighbor could sue to have the police come out and investigate if you are an illegal immigrant from Ireland.   Yelling for your children in your native tongue of Portuguese?  Someone could have you investigated for that.

The reality of this Bill is it sets precedence for harassment.  You don’t have to be doing anything extraordinary or even look a certain way to be pulled in to the station and hassled.   This is why even Texans have been speaking out against it.  Or perhaps they remember the Alamo and what could happen if you push a Mexican too far.

It is this sentiment, the grey zone of harassment that people who are against this law are so concerned with.  From civil rights groups to state senators there has been a general outcry against this law.  Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, stated, “This piece of legislation are tactics that were used in Nazi Germany,” Aboud said of the requirement that individuals be able to show paperwork.

But there are a lot of people who support this law.  The Phoenix police department for one, But then they also rounded up 800 immigrants in one day following the Bill being signed into law.  It is a huge income incentive for their county.

Hate groups are especially exuberant about this law.  People operating radio stations all over the country have been praising the Governor’s “brave move.”  However one wonders what will happen when the neo-Nazi practicing their new German phrases gets hauled in on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant.

But probably one of the scarier supporters of this law is the same group that helped write it.  The Immigration Reform Law institute. (IRLI)  This group feels that our nation is not taking immigration (and by immigration they mean Mexican immigration) seriously enough.   To this end they have set about setting up an organization to promote, plan and help implement laws that are discriminatory and many feel unconstitutional.  IRLI has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Immigration Reform Law Institute calls itself, “America’s only public interest law organization working exclusively to protect the legal rights, privileges, and property of U.S. citizens and their communities from injuries and damages caused by unlawful immigration.” However, the Center for New Community (CNC) has a different slant on what IRLI stands for. According to CNC, IRLI’s “primary purpose is to push legal causes that unfairly target immigrant communities.”

IRLI has been behind most, if not every, local legislative immigration crackdown over the past few years.  IRLI has taken part in a class action suit against California educators for allowing immigrant students to attend school. They have been behind a series of initiatives to prohibit members of local communities from renting to undocumented immigrants and sued Secretary Michael Chertoff and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), despite his aggressive workplace raids. In California, the Immigration Reform Law Institute has also aligned itself with a state ballot initiative aimed at overturning the 14th Amendment citizenship requirements and ending pre-natal and non-emergency care and child welfare checks that benefit the U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants. IRLI lawyer Kris Kobach makes about $300 per hour to train Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s officers in immigration matters. Kobach is kept busy considering Arpaio is currently the subject of a racial profiling investigation by the Department of Justice and has 2,700 lawsuits sitting on his desk as a result of his immigration policing tactics. A recent documentary investigated the role IRLI played in an anti-immigrant ordinance proposed in Prince William County.

Back on the phone with my acquaintance when I find my words, I explain all this to them.  They are not impressed.   They spout the general rhetoric of “This is America” and “We need to police our borders.”  Mixed in with this is a new sentiment.  “Maybe now we can afford to move there.”

Ah, so the pioneering expansion emotion is never far from some of our minds.

New land, cheap.