Arizona bill is the real crime

Norma Villegas reports on Arizona's latest legislative attack on immigrants.

Protesting outside the Arizona state capitol building where lawmakers passed SB 1070Protesting outside the Arizona state capitol building where lawmakers passed SB 1070

LEGISLATION IN Arizona that could become law by this weekend would make it a crime to lack proper immigration paperwork and would require police, if they suspect someone is in the country without documentation, to determine that person's immigration status.

The misnamed "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act" is being described as the harshest anti-immigrant measure in the country. Introduced by state Sen. Russell Pearce, it passed both houses of the Arizona legislature. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer has until Saturday to veto the bill, known as SB 1070--if she signs it or does nothing, it will become law.

The legislation would forbid authorities from releasing anyone found guilty until the full sentence is served. Courts are required to force those found guilty to pay court costs and an additional fine of at least $500 for the first offense, and double that for a second or subsequent conviction. Plus, any second violation of the law, no matter how minor, would be reclassified as a felony.

In a cruel twist, the fines imposed on those found guilty would be funneled into a special account established for the Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission (GIITEM), a multi-agency task force created by the legislature earlier this year with $10 million in funding.

SB 1070 also specifically targets day laborers. The bill would make it a class 1 misdemeanor for anyone to "pick up passengers for work" if the vehicle blocks traffic--and also anyone being picked up in order to work. These restrictions are clearly tailored to penalize anyone seeking work at a day labor site or through an independent contractor, even if out of public view.

Isabel Garcia, co-chair of the Comisión de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Commission) in Tucson, characterized SB 1070 as a blatant attempt to target Latino workers. As Garcia said in an interview on Democracy Now!:

[I]n New York City, you wave a cab, and when they pull over, of course, it blocks traffic for a few seconds. That's exactly what would be criminalized in all of the state of Arizona--guaranteeing, of course, that day laborers could not be out looking for work. We've criminalized work in the state of Arizona.

This bill resurrects at the state level aspects of the infamous HR 4437, proposed by Rep. James Sensenbrenner five years ago--the anti-immigrant legislation that spurred the massive pro-immigrant right demonstrations in 2006. It also expands on the racist practices of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who boasts of being the most hard-line anti-immigrant law enforcement official in the country.

Under Arpaio, immigrant communities have been terrorized by local law enforcement officials deputized to enforce immigration law as part of the federal government 287(g) program. The result has essentially been the legal use of racial profiling--singling out people who are "suspected" of being undocumented immigrants.

As Alessandra Soler Meetze, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said of SB 1070, "A lot of U.S. citizens are going to be swept up in the application of this law for something as simple as having an accent and leaving their wallet at home." And if that's not enough, the bill gives anyone the power to sue a city, town or county if they believe a law enforcement agency is failing to enforce this law.

The effects of this tide of anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona has already been severe, and will only become more so. "People yesterday were scrambling--didn't send people to school, didn't go to work," Garcia said.

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IF THERE was any doubt whether the Obama administration would be on board with the measure, it should be gone now. No sooner had SB 1070 passed the legislature than federal immigration agents raided Arizona shuttle companies that advertise transportation between cities in Northern Mexico, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, with indictments against more than twelve shuttle companies.

Eight hundred Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, together with U.S. marshals and local police officers, apprehended more than 40 people in what the New York Times called the largest immigrant smuggling case in U.S. history. The indictment alleges that the shuttle companies "participated in a conspiracy to transport illegal aliens from Phoenix to other states," according to the Arizona Republic.

As Garcia told Democracy Now!:

[I]t's really an absurd justification, when we know that it's an all-out assault on the public and the community, right on the heels of this legislation passing...They have convicted hundreds and hundreds of people who simply crossed and admitted that they were going to pay a smuggler. They're the ones who are being prosecuted as being smugglers--as co-conspirators to their own smuggling."

Who needs the Minutemen vigilantes when there are militarized federal and state government forces carrying out a head-on assault on a population with no rights to speak of, but who have families to care for? Who needs Bush and the Republicans to attack immigrants when the Democrats are doing the job?

Record levels of immigrant-related legislation were adopted nationwide in 48 states from January to December of last year--353 to be exact. The lack of federal legalization reform has spearheaded a war against immigrants over the years, and now the orders are coming from the top.

Under the Obama administration, according to government data, deportations of undocumented immigrants in the 2009 fiscal year rose to 387,790, up from 291,060 in 2007 under Bush.

The failure of President Obama and the Democrats to pass much needed immigration reform--proposals from Sens. Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham and from Rep. Luis Gutierrez are filled with concessions, and they are far from passing Congress, even in their current form--should show pro-immigrant forces that we cannot place our trust in politicians to move forward legalization and full rights.

SB 1070 comes on the heels of the recent revival of the immigrant rights movement with the 200,000-strong demonstration in Washington D.C., on March 21. As the annual May Day protests approach, supporters of immigrant rights have to make their voices heard and their demands clear: full citizenship rights to all who seek them, without conditions.