This morning, the Supreme Court heard the oral arguments of Arizona v. United States, a case that will examine key provisions of Arizona’s infamous and draconian immigration law, SB 1070. If implemented, the law, colloquially known as the ‘show me your papers bill,’ would lead to the unjust targeting of Arizonans through racial profiling and increased jail sentencing.
Because of SB 1070’s blatant assault on civil liberties, much of the nation was shocked by its passage. The United States challenged it in court, arguing that the state was unconstitutionally encroaching on the federal government’s responsibility for immigration law. Four sections of the bill were blocked by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton of Phoenix on July 28, 2010. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld Bolton’s ruling, and after Arizona appealed that decision, the case arrived at the Supreme Court, which has chosen to address yet another politically polarizing issue in this critical election year. Although the threat to the basic rights of people – both citizens and immigrants – is the subject of significant concern, the legal issue before the Supreme Court today addresses whether Arizona’s effort to make life so miserable for immigrants that they leave the state is preempted by federal law.
Below is an analysis of the legislation that People For the American Way published when participating in a statewide boycott of Arizona following the passage of the legislation nearly two years ago.
Question: How does the Arizona law, S.B. 1070, expand racial profiling? Isn't it focused only on migrant workers?
Answer: Under current law, state-local police are authorized to enforce federal immigration laws only in limited circumstances. Even so, law enforcement in Arizona and across the country already is challenged by substantial evidence of wrongful arrests, racial profiling, and discrimination. The new law would dramatically expand the problem. Specifically, the new law:
• Increases the scope of those enforcing immigration laws from a few police departments, or units within departments, to every single law enforcement officer in the entire state.
• Expands the population at risk of being stopped, arrested, and detained from a limited number – those targeted by bona fide immigration enforcement operations, or those already in police custody – to everyone who comes into contact with a law enforcement officer who has a "reasonable suspicion" someone may be undocumented.
• Virtually guarantees that Latinos and other minorities will be asked to provide proof of legal residency, and be subject to arrest and detention if they cannot do so, at far higher rates than non-minorities. Research on racial profiling shows that, not only do minority drivers experience more traffic stops than non-minority drivers, once stopped, minorities are subject to higher rates of searches, arrests, and formal charges than similarly-situated non-minority drivers.
• Provides powerful incentives for wrongful arrests, racial profiling, and other abuse by creating a private right of action against any agency that fails to uphold the new law's provisions, while at the same time indemnifying police officers from litigation brought by those who are wrongfully detained or racially profiled.
Demonstrations in support of the U.S. Justice Department took place this morning, and PFAW staff were able to attend in solidarity.
End Note: Another controversial aspect of SB 1070 is the role that ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, played in adopting the bill as model legislation and pushing it in states across the country. For an analysis of the ALEC connection and SB 1070, please read our report on ALEC in Arizona released in November 2011, “ALEC IN ARIZONA: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in the Halls of Arizona's Legislature” and the Center for Media and Democracy’s blog post on the issue.
Last year, Arizona’s state legislature caused a national uproar when it passed a constitutionally dubious bill giving state and local law enforcement officers the power to police for illegal immigrants and essentially requiring all people who may look like immigrants to carry their immigration papers. Parts of that law are currently on hold as courts determine their constitutionality, but the copy-cat laws keep coming. Alabama’s governor has now signed the state’s own SB 1070 on steroids, or what its sponsor called “an Arizona bill with an Alabama twist”:
Under the new measure, police must detain someone they suspect of being in the country illegally if the person cannot produce proper documentation when stopped for any reason.
It also will be a crime to knowingly transport or harbor someone who is in the country illegally. The law imposes penalties on businesses that knowingly employ someone without legal resident status. A company's business license could be suspended or revoked.
The law requires Alabama businesses to use a database called E-Verify to confirm the immigration status of new employees.
Alabama's law is unique in requiring public schools to determine, by review of birth certificates or sworn affidavits, the legal residency status of students.
In other words, not only are Alabama police now being roped into immigration enforcement – so are public schools and private businesses and even private citizens. The law enforcement provision is troubling: like Arizona’s law, it would seem to encourage racial profiling by police officers instructed to detain people who they suspect may be undocumented immigrants. But Alabama’s new “twist,” requiring schools to investigate the immigration status of their students is one of the most dramatic over-reaches included in the many anti-immigrant laws that have been making their way through state government’s since the passage of SB 1070.
It’s no surprise that the mind behind Alabama’s law is Kris Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state, who was also behind Arizona’s law. Kobach was formerly the top lawyer at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of FAIR, the central group in the anti-immigrant movement, which has a long history of racially-charged attacks on immigrants. FAIR, formerly a fringe group, and the divisive and dehumanizing rhetoric it pushes have been enjoying a renewed national prominence in the vicious anti-immigrant movement that has begun to take hold among even the mainstream GOP. We reviewed the tactics of Kobach and his allies in a report last year on growing trends in anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Arizona’s state Senate yesterday defeated five extreme anti-immigrant bills, including two aimed at provoking the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the constitutional definition of citizenship, and three more that would have required hospitals, schools, public housing administrators, and DMV officials to become immigration enforcers:
One of the rejected bills would have required hospitals to contact federal immigration officials or local law enforcement if people being treated lack insurance and can't demonstrate legal status.
Critics said that would burden hospitals, but Republican Sen. Steve Smith of Maricopa said his bill didn't require much.
"Maybe you forgot it's illegal to be in this country illegally," he said during the vote on his bill. "We just ask them to report the crime, not be the judge and executioner."
Also defeated was a bill to require schools to file reports on enrollments of illegal immigrant students.
The fifth bill was a sweeping measure sponsored by Pearce. It would have made it a crime for illegal immigrants to drive in Arizona. It also had provisions on registering vehicles, workplace hiring and various public benefits.
It would ban illegal immigrants from attending Arizona's public universities and community colleges. The state does not now have a ban but it does require illegal immigrants to pay higher, non-resident tuition rates.
Pearce's bill also would have required eviction of public housing tenants who let illegal immigrants live with them and make applicants for vehicle titles and registration prove they are in the country legally.
Arizona has in recent months led the way in extremist anti-immigrant measures, including passing last year’s SB 1070, which would have required racial profiling by state police. Parts of that bill were temporarily blocked by a judge as the bill is appealed.
That these five bills couldn’t make it through the Arizona Senate shows the power of the backlash against such harsh—and possibly illegal—measures.
Virginia’s crusading attorney general Ken Cuccinelli has a new cause: ensuring that Virginia keeps up with Arizona in the race to become the most anti-immigrant state in the union.
On Friday, prompted by an inquiry from Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, Cuccinelli decreed that Virginia police can grill people about their immigration status when stopped for traffic violations or at police checkpoints:
A 2008 Virginia law requires that law enforcement check the immigration status of anyone taken into custody on suspicion of having committed a separate crime. Cuccinelli's opinion could expand such inquiries to those who have been legally stopped by law enforcement, for instance those pulled over for a traffic violation or at a police checkpoint.
Cuccinelli writes in the July 30 opinion that while local law enforcement have the ability to arrest those they suspect of committing criminal violations of immigration laws but not those they believe have violated civil immigration statutes. But he says inquiring into status is different than arresting for a violation and that law enforcement can inquire. While it is a crime to illegally cross the border, many other immigration violations are civil offense, like overstaying a valid visa.
"Virginia law enforcement officers have the authority to make the same inquiries as those contemplated by the new Arizona law. So long as the officers have the requisite level of suspicion to believe that a violation of the law has occurred, the officers may detain and briefly question a person they suspect has committed a federal crime," he writes.
In Virginia, official opinions of the attorney general are considered law unless a judge disagrees with the legal analysis after an opinion has been challenged in court.
A similar provision in Arizona’s law was blocked by a federal judge last week before it could take effect. Arizona’s law required police to make such checks when they suspect that a person they have stopped is in the country illegally, whereas Cuccinelli’s pronouncement merely allows police to make that check. The effect, however, is similar: state police are given the broad authority to determine whom to quiz about immigration status in situations that are unrelated to immigration. And, however many racial profiling disclaimers are written into a law, a regulation like that is going to unduly burden Virginia’s Latino residents, who now must be prepared to prove their immigration status every time they drive to the grocery store.
We reported earlier this year on the whisper campaign strategy we expected from the right wing in its effort to defeat comprehensive immigration reform, and since then we’ve seen exactly that--fringe extremism met with tacit acceptance by the mainstream.
We saw that strategy at work in Arizona, where an extreme-right state senator convinced the entire state government to hop on board an anti-immigrant plan that sanctioned racial profiling, hampered local law enforcement, and created a culture of fear for Latinos in the state.
But I don’t know if we expected anything as scary as we’re seeing this week.
Yesterday, the New York Times reported that an anonymous group had circulated a list to media outlets and government officials containing the names, birth dates, addresses, and telephone numbers of 1,300 Utah residents who, they said, they “strongly believe are in this country illegally and should be immediately deported.” The list also included the due dates of pregnant women.
The release of the list has caused residents who are here legally as well as those without documentation to fear retaliation by self-appointed immigration enforcers.
Today, Think Progress reported a similar fear tactic in Arizona, where someone pretending to be a sheriff has sent letters to businesses and individuals telling them in an intimidating tone to “take heed” of the state’s new draconian anti-immigrant policy.
Both of these incidents involved anonymous groups of individuals, not government officials (though Utah officials suspect government employees might have been involved in leaking the personal information to the list). In both cases, state and local authorities are looking into who is responsible.
These incidents have been disturbing, but what is even more disturbing is the right’s silence in response. Utah’s governor, Gary Herbert, has expressed his disapproval of the Utah list, but few right wing leaders have joined him in speaking out against it. A spokesman for the Utah chapter of the Minuteman Project went so far as to say he thought the release of the list was a good idea, as long as the information on it was accurate.
If right wing leaders don’t condemn these tactics of intimidation, they tacitly condone them. And they can’t claim to be interested in real reform if they stand by silently while fringe groups incite hatred and fear.
Members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council and African American Ministers in Action gathered on Ellis Island to sign an immigration reform covenant.
On Wednesday, members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) and African American Ministers In Action (AAMIA) gathered on Ellis Island to pledge their unified support for a dignified, just, and tolerant approach to reforming the country’s immigration laws. The ministers, from five states and diverse denominations, were the first to sign a multi-faith covenant calling for “immigration dialogue and reform that will inspire hope, unite families, secure borders, ensure dignity and provide a legal avenue for all of God’s children working and desiring to reside in this country to drink from the well of justice and equal protection under the law.”
The covenant, which lays out seven principles for a respectful immigration reform debate, will be circulated among faith leaders of diverse traditions and ethnicities across the United States.
“We believe immigration reform is important for this nation. As faith leaders from various faith traditions, we stand united with one message and that is a message of love,” said Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs.
Watson Malachi put together the covenant in response to what she called the “increasingly nasty and divisive political and social tone of the immigration debate.”
Rev. Robert Shine
“For years, we have witnessed rhetoric around immigration reform that is deceptive, harmful, and pits communities against each other,” she said. “What took place in Arizona last month, when the state essentially legalized racial profiling in the name of immigration reform, demonstrated the mean-spirited, inhospitable atmosphere that is moving across state lines. This covenant is a statement that faith leaders will reclaim civility, lead a genuine, compassionate conversation, and not stand for racially divisive tactics that undermine the dignity of human beings.”
Members of the AAMLC were quick to sign on.
“We are concerned about all people, from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all races, all nationalities, ethnic origins, etc.,” said Reverend Melvin Wilson of St. Luke AME Church in New York, one of the original signers, “But the tone of the current discussion of immigration has been so negative, so divisive, we are just not going to sit idly by and let the talking heads speak without providing a counter-voice.”
Rev. Patrick Young signs the covenant as Rev. Dr. E. Gail Anderson Holness looks on.
“To sign this covenant is important for multiple reasons,” said Reverend Byron Williams, of Resurrection Church in Oakland, California, who was among the first leaders to add his name to the document. “First of all, it’s important on the issues of equality, and justice, and fairness and dignity. But it also makes an important statement that we have African American pastors coming together. Our ancestry does not take us by Ellis Island, but the concept of liberty is one that’s as deep in our community as it is for anyone that’s come to these shores looking for a better life. It’s those deeply held values of liberty, justice and fairness that are the bedrock of American principles.”
Watson Malachi plans to continue promoting the messages of unity and dignity through education and awareness efforts that include informative dialogue sessions, roundtable conversations with faith leaders from African, Caribbean, Latino, African American and other communities.
The full text of the covenant can be found here.
People For’s report on divisive and dishonest rhetoric in the debate on immigration reform is here.
Via ThinkProgress, news of a recent Pew Hispanic Center study that found one in 10 Hispanics are stopped by authorities who question them about their immigration status. Forty percent of the Hispanics surveyed say they worry "a lot" about deportation and "an additional 17% say they worry some that they themselves, a family member or a close friend may be deported."
Among other types of racial profiling the survey reported:
One-in-seven (15%) say that they have had trouble in the past year finding or keeping a job because they are Latino. One-in-ten (10%) report the same about finding or keeping housing.
As one ThinkProgress commenter put it: "Living While Hispanic. It's the new Driving While Black."