Arizona's "Juan Crow"

Racial profiling was a fact of life in Arizona before lawmakers passed SB 1070.

THOUSANDS OF protesters took to the streets of Arizona's capital of Phoenix in the days after Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed a draconian anti-immigrant bill into law on April 23.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is on the editorial board of the International Socialist Review. She is a frequent contributor on the subject of race and class and has written extensively on the struggle for housing justice. Her articles have also appeared on the Black Commentator, CounterPunch and Gaper's Block Web sites.

The protests began even before SB 1070 became law, as hundreds of high school students staged walkouts across the state in the hopes of pressuring the governor into not signing. In the end, Brewer, facing dwindling approval ratings as a hotly contested election season gets going, decided to go for racism and scapegoating.

Basically, SB 1070 requires law enforcement officials to stop anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally and ask for proof of citizenship. Citizens who feel that the police aren't stopping the undocumented are empowered to sue. The law makes it a crime for any immigrant--documented or not--to be without proof of citizenship. In other words, immigrants of any status in Arizona will be forced to carry papers or risk arrest. And it makes it illegal to knowingly assist the undocumented.

This law is a disaster.

It legalizes racism and discrimination. It criminalizes the undocumented and those who know them. It enshrines in law police harassment and racial profiling.

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Brewer wants us to believe that "racial profiling won't be tolerated," as she said to the media when she signed the bill. But when asked what criteria would be used to question someone's legal status, her response was: "I don't know. I don't know what an illegal immigrant looks like."

What the governor is either too naïve to understand--or is feigning ignorance of in order to save face--is that there is no way to tell the difference between citizens and the undocumented, and that the new law is an invitation to racial profiling.

Brewer has guaranteed that the state will come up with new criteria to help law enforcement spot undocumented immigrants, assuring the public that some in Arizona will know "what an illegal immigrant looks like."

Despite these assurances, however, racial profiling has already been a serious issue in the state of Arizona.

For years, the state was one of a small handful that refused to collect data documenting the race or ethnicity of those pulled over for traffic stops. It wasn't until a 2006 class action lawsuit initiated by the ACLU that charged Arizona State Police with racial profiling that the state agreed, as part of a settlement, to begin collecting the data.

A 2008 report two years after the lawsuit found that racial profiling was in full swing. African American and Latino drivers were two-and-a-half times more likely than white drivers to be searched after being pulled over for routine traffic stops. Native Americans were over three times more likely to be searched.

SB 1070 will make matters worse--by making it perfectly legal to question any and all Latinos about their immigration status.

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Moreover, for an openly racist law enforcement official like the infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, this law simply legitimizes his past harassment of communities of colors and gives him the green light to further terrorize them in the future.

Arpaio gained national infamy by housing inmates outdoors in tents in the Arizona heat and making male inmates wear pink underwear. Last year, the Obama administration opened an investigation into Arpaio's county jail when he marched 200 Latinos to the tent city--after calling the local media to make sure it was captured on tape.

According to an ACLU report in 2008, Arpaio surrounded a town of 6,000 mostly Latinos and Native Americans, and began arbitrarily pulling over people for minor traffic offenses and asking about their citizenship. With a volunteer "posse" of more than a hundred and the use of helicopters, the ACLU reported that these vigilantes stopped:

residents and chas[ed] them into their homes. In the end, nine undocumented immigrants were arrested. The community was so scared by the event that families are still terrified to leave their homes when they see the Sheriff's patrol cars. The Sheriff has also begun to conduct raids on area businesses that employ Latino workers. These actions have led to a disturbing number of U.S. citizens and legal residents of Hispanic descent being stopped, searched, arrested and detained.

This was before SB 1070 passed. Arpaio is already bragging that the new law means he won't have to rely on "excuses" to question people about their immigration status--he can simply make stops and place the burden on individuals to prove their citizenship.

"It's going to change our lives," said Emilio Almodovar, a 13-year-old American citizen from Phoenix. "We can't walk to school any more. We can't be in the streets anymore without the pigs thinking we're illegal immigrants."

While the right wing is hailing this bill as a victory, it is being met with fierce resistance. Beyond the protests in Arizona, the law's passage a few days before the historic May Day marches around the country is bound to bring out more people than could have been expected before. After all, in 2006, hundreds of thousands of Latinos marched on May Day in demonstrations across the country to demand legalization and immigration reform when a similarly draconian anti-immigrant bill was threatened on a federal level.

Undoubtedly, this law will create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in Arizona while people on the ground face the real possibility of harassment, arrest, detainment and potentially deportation.

At the same time, Latinos and others who are for democracy and social justice in Arizona and around the country will not simply sit back and allow this outrage to be carried out without an intense struggle against it. As Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva--who has faced racist slurs and threats against his life since coming out against the bill--said when the bill was passed, "We're going to overturn this unjust and racist law, and then we're going to overturn the power structure that created this unjust, racist law."

Everyone should mobilize for May Day and demand no enforcement of SB 1070--and legalization for all as the only real "immigration reform."