Arizona Passes Restrictive Immigration Bill

A bill approved Tuesday by Arizona lawmakers may be one of the most restrictive pieces of state-level immigration enforcement legislation in the country, making it illegal to be in the state without proper documentation and expanding the power of local police officials to enforce immigration law.

“This is a sad day, and not just for Arizona,” said Linda Brown, executive director of the progressive Arizona Advocacy Network, “as we see Jim Crow and apartheid become codified here, where we thought we’d long since seen those days go away.”

The measure was passed on a 35-21 strict party-line vote in the Arizona House, and had been approved by the state Senate in February. It will now need to be signed into law by Arizona governor Jan Brewer, a Republican who has argued for stringent immigration enforcement.

Under SB 1070, it is a misdemeanor to be a foreign national without documentation showing proof of legal residency. It would also make it illegal for people to transport undocumented immigrants if the drivers know their status, hire undocumented immigrants or block traffic when they are seeking or offering day-labor services on street corners.

Along with requiring police officers to enforce immigration laws by seeking out undocumented immigrants, the measure allows citizens to sue if they feel a government agency has adopted a policy that hinders the enforcement of immigration laws.

Currently, police are only allowed to ask about a person’s immigration status if that person is a suspect in another crime.

Brown said that anti-immigrant law-enforcement practices have already made racial profiling a problem, but that adding this bill on top of Obama administration deportation quotas will only exacerbate the problem.

“You have got a situation in Arizona and soon to be across this country where the fastest growing ethnic group in this country is swiftly becoming the most suspected,” she said, “and by that scrutinized and hated.”

Arizona’s border with Mexico is one the busiest crossing points for undocumented immigrants; in 2005, 253 people died trying to cross the desert into Arizona. An estimated 460,000 undocumented immigrants live in the state.

The main sponsor of the bill, Sen. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), represents Maricopa County, which is also home to the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio is known for his jails where detainees live in tents in the desert, and is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice for civil rights violations and the FBI for abuse of power.

The ACLU and other groups have said they will sue to keep the bill from taking effect if Brewer signs it into law. In a statement, the ACLU said it was extremely disappointed by the bill, and that Arizona would again have to learn the lesson “that it does not pay to trade in our basic liberties for fear mongering.”

The statement also said that the criminalizing of day laborers violated the First Amendment, and noted a New Hampshire law struck down in 2005 that would have expanded the state’s trespassing laws to criminalize undocumented immigrants.

Rep. Tom Chabin, a Democrat strongly opposed to the measure, said the cost of the legislation to immigrants would be high. “This bill, whether we intend it or not, terrorizes the people we profit from.”