There must be something in the water at the state government buildings in Phoenix. First they resisted recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day for seven years, and now they have passed SB 1070 into law; clearly there are some issues with respecting civil rights. The bill requires police to ask questions about immigration status and demand proof through official papers and identification if they have ‘reasonable suspicion’ that a person is in Arizona illegally; if you aren’t carrying or can’t produce the proper documents you can be arrested and given six months in jail or up to $2,500 in fines. True, here in Ohio we have our own version of a xenophobic, anti-immigrant bill in the form of SB 35, that would train state police to enforce federal immigration law, which at the moment is thankfully stuck in the House and it is unlikely that Gov. Strickland would sign it. The new Arizona law, the Ohio bill and any other similar legislation lurking in U.S. state capitols are signs that the current immigration system is not working and needs to be fixed by the federal government.
The loose wording of the Arizona law leaves the door wide open for racial profiling and civil rights violations, making the undocumented population, and the Latino community as a whole, less safe because people will be less able and willing to report crimes to the police, which will make them more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. The Arizona School Board even released a statement that they were concerned about the effect this would have on students, because even documented students could be too fearful to continue attending if they believe it would put their family members at risk. This will not solve any issues for Arizona – immigration or border-related – it simply serves to terrorize anyone who doesn’t look sufficiently ‘American’ (read: white) or has the wrong accent. Lawsuits and organizing efforts inside Arizona and out must continue to repeal this before the law takes effect.
The Ohio Bill, SB 35, would expand a model already being implemented here in Butler County. In 2007 Sheriff Richard Jones had the deputies trained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce federal immigration law, justified by an influx of both documented and undocumented, mainly Hispanic, immigrants to the area. Jones has been in the national spotlight a few times in recent years calling for stronger immigration laws and demanding federal reimbursement for the cost of jailing all the undocumented workers awaiting deportation. Last week Jones and the county settled a lawsuit for $100,000 with a construction site worker who was illegally interrogated about his immigration status and later deported; it seems the case was settled rather than taken to trial to avoid setting a legal precedent against similar workplace interrogations in the future.
Enforcement of existing immigration law at the state level will not resolve the growing conflict on immigration, it will only exacerbate it. Immigrants come here in search of the American dream, in many cases cutting themselves off from everything they’ve ever known in order to send money home to make a better life for their families; I’ve seen entire villages in rural Oaxaca, Mexico being supported by family members that had crossed illegally into the U.S. and met families in Guatemala and Nicaragua who have done the same, never knowing when or if they’ll be able to see their loved one again. I’ve met undocumented workers in the U.S. who haven’t seen their families back home in decades for fear they won’t be able to make it back across the border, but each day must worry about being caught and deported, being forced to leave behind their U.S.-born children. Current policy keeps families apart and makes legal immigration impossible for many to navigate; policy needs to change on the national level rather than through state-by-state laws designed to chase both documented and undocumented immigrants out.
Reform supporters’ escalating actions across the country, to protest the passage of Arizona’s SB 1070 and demand President Obama move immigration reform to the forefront, has gathered a lot of attention and continues to increase pressure.
The pressure has had an impact, but this past weekend in D.C. meant that members of the Senate were playing paper, rock, scissors to decide if it would be immigration reform or climate change up for debate before the summer recess, rather than coming to an agreement on how to adequately debate and pass bills on both issues that have broad public support. Immigration reform activists are staying active with a round of May Day demonstrations planned around the country this Saturday, take to the streets and show your support so we can have the real immigration reform that is needed.
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