On Saturday tens of thousands of people from all over the country gathered in Phoenix to voice their opposition to S.B. 1070. On the local news later that evening, a mom who participated in the march pushing a stroller with one of her two U.S. citizen children said, "I'm doing this for them. So they know what their country is really about."
The Arizona law that passed the state legislature in April criminalizes immigrants who are "unlawfully present" in the United States. This is the most extreme law ever passed by a state to address immigration, the regulation of which is primarily a federal responsibility. S.B. 1070 requires local police to demand papers proving citizenship or immigration status from people they stop if there is a "reasonable suspicion" that they are in the country unlawfully.
The ACLU, together with the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Immigration Law Center and other civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit challenging S.B. 1070. A motion for a preliminary injunction will be filed in the coming weeks with the goal of stopping the law from going into effect on July 29, 2010.
Already, the ACLU of Arizona and our community partners throughout the state are receiving calls on a daily basis from frantic parents, caregivers, religious workers, volunteers, teachers and even state agencies about their rights and obligations under this law. Unfortunately, it is not an overstatement to say that there is a great deal of fear and panic in immigrant and minority communities in Arizona. Since the signing of S.B. 1070, parents have reported that they are afraid to keep their kids in public schools because of the possibility that they or their kids could be reported to immigration authorities. Families have decided to leave the state entirely because they cannot live under constant threat and suspicion. Without even going into effect, this law has already eroded public trust in law enforcement, compromised crime victims' and witnesses' willingness to come forward, emboldened hate groups and created a heightened climate of discrimination and fear.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include a number of social and legal service providers, churches, ethnic associations, labor unions and individuals who would be negatively impacted by S.B. 1070. They are men, women and children who are afraid that if the law were to go into effect they would be at risk of being questioned, arrested and jailed by local police. In many of these cases however, what is even more powerful than their fear of being arrested is the fear of being separated from family and community, and being stripped of their safety and well-being.
Two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are women and residents of Phoenix, Arizona. Both have endured severe abuse and violence and are seeking protection in the United States. But since the passage of S.B. 1070, they are afraid of potential encounters with law enforcement because of their ethnic appearance and limited or accented English. They are afraid that they could be arrested and prosecuted under the law because they do not carry one of the enumerated "registration documents."
One of the women is of South Asian descent and speaks very limited English. She was kidnapped, sexually abused, and physically assaulted in her home country. Now in Arizona, she is applying for asylum with immigration authorities, a process that can take up to several years. Another plaintiff is a Haitian woman who was granted permission to remain in the United States pursuant to the Violence Against Women Act after suffering abuse at the hands of her father. As these women try to piece their lives back together, one of their greatest fears is that they may be caught up by the new law and thrown into a process that would require them to relive the trauma they survived.
Laws like S.B. 1070 are written and promoted to create fear in immigrant communities and spread divisiveness across our nation. It is another tool that will be used to separate families by subjecting more and more people to the state's jails and federal detention centers. It is a tool that will be used to measure the number of deportations from Arizona, without any regard for due process, fairness or justice. Laws like S.B. 1070 that create an assault on a class of people based on their heritage or appearance are not rooted in fundamental American values. Perhaps the voices of the marchers from this weekend and the stories of the plaintiffs in the litigation should remind us that constitutional and human rights apply to all people, regardless of their immigration status, even in Arizona.