Arizona: ground zero for illegal immigration

Arizona: ground zero for illegal immigration

In the last hours, Arizona has become ground zero for the debate over illegal immigration, evidencing it has reached the boiling point, also in the national landscape. Numerous protests took place across the country over the weekend while hundreds of people gathered outside the Grand Canyon State’s Capitol on Sunday, to rally against the tough new immigration law signed Friday by Governor Jan Brewer.  More protests are expected this week.

Naturalized Hispanics and Hispanic-Americans have joined the call of immigrant rights advocates to boycott Arizona over its aggressive new immigration law. In Los Angeles, Spanish newspaper “La Opinion” ran an editorial blasting the law, while Mexican government has condemned the measure.

The economic boycott is encouraging people in the rest of the U.S. and in Mexico to decline buying Arizona goods and services, as a way to cut off the flow of any tourism or cash to the state. The planned boycott has also been joined by Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva (D).

Within the most controversial provisions of the new immigration law in Arizona, is the one that gives police officers the authority to question anyone they suspect might be in the United States illegally.

Immigration advocates claim the new law will lead to racial profiling and numerous violations of civil rights while law enforcement organizations (other than Maricopa County officers) are skeptic and concerned it will destroy the already eroded trust between the population and law enforcement. They also find the concept of ‘reasonable suspicion’ ambiguous and challenging, as a legitimate resource to stop and question anyone for proof of legal residency.

This is where the debate reaches its scorching point. Proponents of the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” believe that entering the country without authorization is already a federal crime and say the new law will simply allow local police to participate on its enforcement.  Challengers argue it will make the undocumented community unwilling to denounce crime or seek help from police because of fear of being incarcerated and later on deported. They also say the police resources should be used to go after ‘real’ criminals and not against people whose only infringement is to seek work without having proper documentation, and that it shouldn’t constitute a felony.

But these arguments have been the same for long debated and the main reason immigrant rights advocates sustain that an overhaul is urgent. Uncertainty is great in Arizona after SB1070 became law, and many members of the state’s immigrant communities are reportedly packing their bags to flee the state. There is also fear the initiative could become a blueprint for other states.

Opponents to the new law have announced it will be challenged on Constitutional grounds arguing immigration enforcement is of a federal, not a state jurisdiction. So far, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon (D) said on Friday he may file a lawsuit against the state to stop the new law targeting illegal immigration, for which he has requested the City Council to consider legal action based on its “unconstitutional” and “unenforceable” character.   A draft of the lawsuit may be prepared as soon as Tuesday.

On his part, President Obama has instructed a comprehensive review of the initiative to see if it complies with the terms of the Constitution.

But Gov. Jan Brewer pronounced a very strong speech to justify placing her signature on Senate Bill 1070, claiming that Arizona had been “more than patient waiting for Washington to act,” and that decades of federal inaction and “misguided policy” had created “an unacceptable situation,” in a clear reference to the violence and death toll generated by drug cartels in the border.

These arguments appear strong and very convincing; however, Governor Brewer may have an additional motivation to sign the initiative into State law. Brewer will face a fiercely contested primary battle, and current Arizona Attorney General, Terry Goddard (D), is the favorite to challenge the Republican gubernatorial candidate in November. With this move in aggressively tackling illegal immigration, Brewer is also trying to play her cards to appeal the vote of the ultra conservative wing of her own electorate.

Politics are always a motive, especially considering midterm elections are just 7 months away in a state where the largest racial minority is composed by Hispanics and if legalized, within other, would acquire the power to vote. That would bring a whole new scenario to politics not only in Arizona but in the country, and that is a very important reason Democrats may want to be polite to the growing Hispanic population they visualize as future party voters. Republicans are not interested in this principle.

The focus for Arizona’s GOP is on the border and in national security. With the violence increasing south of the U.S. boundaries and the danger of a more explicit infiltration of the drug cartels to American territory, conservatives find the best justification for zero tolerance to human trafficking. In that sense, Brewer has accused the federal government of not ‘policing’ enough, neither providing the necessary resources to guard the Mexican border.

Immigration advocates have promised to give a hard battle and to fight the new immigration law in the United States courts. The new law will be effective 90 days after the current legislative session ends, at the end of this month or the beginning of May, unless in such period of time it can be successfully challenged and reverted.

But while some try to detangle the issue, at the end of the day, the fact is interrogations related to people’s citizenship status are going to be performed based on superficial characteristics including skin color, the origin of the individual’s name, and the language they speak. These inquiries are occurring as we read, although the law is not yet into effect.

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