Arizona Immigration Law Threatens Civil Rights And Public Safety, Says ACLU

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
April 23, 2010 12:00 am

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PHOENIX – Arizona Governor Jan Brewer today signed into law Arizona’s discriminatory immigration enforcement bill which requires law enforcement to question individuals about their immigration status during everyday police encounters. The law creates new immigration crimes and penalties inconsistent with those in federal law, asserts sweeping authority to detain and transport persons suspected of violating civil immigration laws and prohibits speech and other expressive activity by persons seeking work. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona strongly condemn the governor’s decision to sign the unconstitutional law and are dismayed by her disregard for the serious damage it could cause to civil liberties and public safety in the state.

“Governor Brewer and the Arizona legislature have set Arizona apart in their willingness to sacrifice our liberties and the economy of this state,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona. “By signing this bill into law, Brewer has just authorized violating the rights of millions of people living and working here. She has just given every police agency in Arizona a mandate to harass anyone who looks or sounds foreign, while doing nothing to address the real problems we’re facing.”

The new law, which will not go into effect for more than 90 days, requires police agencies across Arizona to investigate the immigration status of every person they come across whom they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is in the country unlawfully. To avoid arrest, citizens and immigrants will effectively have to carry their “papers” at all times. The law also makes it a state crime for immigrants to willfully fail to register with the Department of Homeland Security and carry registration documents. It further curtails the free speech rights of day laborers and encourages unchecked information sharing between government agencies.

“Forcing local police to demand people’s papers and arrest those who can’t immediately prove their status will do nothing to make us safer,” said Dan Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU of Arizona. “What it will do is divert scarce police resources to address false threats and force officers to prioritize immigration enforcement over all other public safety responsibilities. It is a dark day for Arizona when the goal of appeasing one state Senator, Russell Pearce, takes priority over fundamental rights and economic needs of residents.”

Before the governor signed the bill, President Obama criticized it harshly, calling it “misguided” and saying that it threatens to “undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.” Obama promised to “closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation.”

The president’s statement is consistent with his longstanding opposition to anti-immigrant laws that attempt to bypass the federal government. As a senator, he lauded the 2007 legal ruling blocking the anti-immigrant law in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, calling the law “unconstitutional and unworkable.”

Despite the president’s statements, his administration has not taken strong action against state and local anti-immigrant laws, paving the way for extreme laws like the one signed today. Currently, the administration has a prime opportunity to take a stand on the issue, because the solicitor general will soon file a brief explaining the administration’s position on Arizona’s unconstitutional employer sanctions law, passed in 2007, which creates a state-level immigrant employment verification and sanctions regime.

“Actions speak louder than words,” said Omar Jadwat, a staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “As the federal government sits on its hands, Arizona’s anti-immigrant brushfires have turned into a firestorm. We call on the administration to file a brief categorically opposing Arizona’s employer sanctions law to demonstrate its commitment to stopping anti-immigrant laws that interfere with federal authority, wreak havoc on businesses and cause discrimination against Latinos.”

Additional materials on the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” signed by Governor Brewer today, including the ACLU of Arizona’s analysis and written testimonies against the law, are available at:

The ACLU’s cert petition in the Arizona employer sanctions case, Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America et al. v. Candelaria et al., is available at:

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