Asian Americans Against SB 1070

Illegal immigrants from China are among the highest populations of illegal immigrants in the country.

Undocumented Chinese are the second largest group of illegal immigrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Last year, ten times as many Chinese illegal immigrants were arrested by Border Patrol along Arizona’s southern border, compared to the year previous. The Arizona Department of Health Services remarked that while the Asian-American population in Arizona represents only about 2% of the population, it is one of the fastest growing minority populations in the state, nearly doubling in size between 1990 and 2005

Contrary to popular perception, SB 1070 will undoubtedly affect Arizona’s Asian American population.

Yet, neither conservative supporters of SB 1070, nor Democratic opponents to the bill, have identified the Asian American community as putative targets of this legislation. Democrats have not taken strides to invite Asian Americans into an anti-SB 1070 coalition; indeed, national press has painted SB 1070 as an anti-Latino law.

These efforts not only detract from efforts against SB 1070 by marginalizing in Asian Americans a small, but vocal, political group that could help raise opposition against the law, but discourages political participation within the Asian American community.

Some Asian Americans are seeking to rectify the situation. They have started an online petition — Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Against SB 1070 — specifically to help Asian Americans lend their voice to the growing movement against SB 1070. Here is the text of the petition:

We the undersigned oppose SB 1070, the bill signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. SB 1070 will create second-class citizens of those who are perceived to be foreign and undocumented. We ask that Governor Brewer and the Arizona state legislature repeal SB 1070.

The Asian American and Pacific Islander communities particularly understand the unequal burdens of this law because of the racially and economically motivated restrictions on Chinese immigration in 1875 and 1882, Alien Land laws in western states, and the unlawful imprisonment of Japanese Americans based on their ethnic heritage during WWII. Various politicians have noted that the bill is not meant to apply only to Latinos but also to Chinese and Middle Eastern individuals as well.

We believe this bill is unconstitutional.  Individuals stopped for traffic violations or infractions of city codes will have to prove their citizenship to any law enforcement officer who has reason to question their status%u2014based on dress, behavior, and accents.  This places an unequal burden of proof on immigrants, foreign-born individuals, and people of color, and violates the right of equal protection under the law.  

We protest the criminalization of humanitarian efforts to aid undocumented migrants through provisions of water, food, and sanctuary.  We further condemn the assumptions that undocumented immigrants are criminals. Most immigrants–documented or undocumented–are hard-working individuals seeking economic opportunities that are not available in their homelands due to structural and global inequities. Furthermore, these immigrants–documented and undocumented–are recruited as a result of US immigration admission policies, and/or hired by US employers.

We urge groups and organizations that were planning on hosting conferences, meetings and conventions in Arizona to boycott the state and move their events elsewhere, to explicitly protest this law. This call to observe the boycott does not extend to those coming to protest and work with local organizations to overturn SB 1070.

We additionally call for immigration reform by the US federal government that treats all people equally and provides ways for immigrants who are contributing socially and economically to the United States to gain naturalized citizenship, reunite with families, and protects migrants from exploitation and crime.

As Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals, and organizations representing AAPIs, we sign in the spirit of other AAPIs such as Yick Wo and Gordon Hirabayashi who, in challenging local and national laws based on economic and racial considerations, strengthened the US constitution and our democracy.

Act Now! If you agree with the above petition text, please sign the petition. In addition, forward the link to your friends and family. Let’s be heard, folks.

Is SB 1070 a Modern “Chinese Exclusion Law”?

A cartoon from a nineteenth century newspaper, detailing contemporary anti-Chinese immigrant sentiment

Last month, Arizona passed an insidious piece of legislation known as SB 1070 — a law that makes being an illegal immigrant a state crime and empowers state and city police officers to conduct immigration checks. While supporters of the law claim that it only enforces federal immigration guidelines, the fact of the matter is that SB 1070 is little more than a modern-day Chinese Exclusion Law.

How ironic is it, than, that SB 1070 was passed within days of the start of Asian American Heritage Month?

In 1858, the Chinese Exclusion Law (not to be confused with the later federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) was part of a series of laws passed by California city and state governments that attempted to address the so-called “problem” of Chinese immigrants by making life virtually impossible for a Chinese immigrant. Coupled with laws that taxed foreign miners, prevented the ringing of gongs, and banned the wearing of queues (the fashion of the day for Chinese men) in city prisons, the Chinese Exclusion Law of 1858 made it a state crime for a “Chinese” or “Mongolian” person to land in a California seaport. This is eerily similar to the text of SB 1070, which charges illegal immigrants with a misdemeanor crime of trespassing in the state of Arizona if they are found to be within Arizona state borders.

While SB 1070 (read the full text) does not specifically target Latino men and women (and, indeed, the law may affect any person of colour who appears to be of the same ethnicity as common illegal immigrants — including South Americans and Asians), it is virtually certain that SB 1070 will institutionalize racial profiling particularly against Latinos because of Arizona’s position along the U.S.-Mexico border. In essence, Arizona is attempting to affect federal immigration policies using state laws to name and target undesired immigrants, just as California attempted to do more than a century ago.

Furthermore, the Chinese Exclusion Law made it a state crime (punishable by a hefty fine or imprisonment) for any person transporting an immigrant to a California seaport. Specifically, the text of the Chinese Exclusion Law reads:

…it shall be unlawful for any man, or person, whether captain or commander, or other person, in charge of, or interested in, or employed on board of, or passenger upon, any vessel, or vessels, of any nature or description whatsoever, to knowingly allow, or permit, any Chinese or Mongolian, on and after such time, to enter any of the ports of this state, to land therein, or at any place, or places, within the borders of this state, and any person of persons violating any of the provisions of this act, shall be held and deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be subject to a fine in any sum not less than four hundred dollars, nor more than six hundred dollars, for each and every offence, or imprisonment in the county jail of the county in which the said offence was committed, for a period of not less than three months, nor more than one year, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Again, this passage is virtually indistinguishable from SB 1070, which applies a punishment to any person who knowingly transports an illegal immigrant into the state or anywhere within the state using any form of motor vehicle.

But what hammers the similarity home, for me, is that SB 1070, like the Chinese Exclusion Law, was not passed in isolation by their respective state governments. More than 150 years separate SB 1070 from the Chinese Exclusion Law, yet both the spirit and the practice of targeting immigrants is the same: in response to a perceived influx of immigrants of colour, a flurry of city and state laws are passed in rapid succession to make life unlivable for the targeted immigrant community. In Arizona, SB 1070 is joined by other laws coming down the pipeline that target aspects of the Latino community here in Arizona, specifically HB 2281 which was conceived of to target a publicly-funded Mexican-American high school studies program. Furthermore, state laws requiring employers to use E-Verify to determine the immigration status of prospective employers are, in spirit, the same as California’s law of 1862 — called An Act to Protect Free White Labor against Competition with Chinese Coolie Labor, and to Discourage the Immigration of the Chinese into the State of California — which instituted a fine for any Chinese person who was deemed to be in competition for “White” jobs (i.e., if they were employed as anything other than a rice, tea, sugar or coffee farmer). In both cases, fears that people of colour are taking up all the jobs fuel the passing of laws that limit employment opportunities for the targeted immigrant groups.

While it is tempting to dismiss Arizona as a progressively whacko state, history teaches us that state governments are the testing grounds for federal legislation. The Chinese Exclusion Law codified an anti-Chinese sentiment that, thirty years later, was institutionalized as the more well-known Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The Chinese Exclusion Act specifically prevented any Chinese person from being able to naturalize as an American citizen, and it is widely criticized as being the most Draconian immigration law in American history. Furthermore, it introduced a new form of legislative codespeak with which to target Chinese people — as aliens ineligible for citizenship. Following the CEA of 1882, subsequent local and state laws could be pased affecting aliens ineligible for citizenship that would target the local Chinese community without ever having to refer to race or ethnicity.

Folks who are better scholars of American immigration law than I have compared SB 1070 to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, but I think the parallel is better drawn to California’s Chinese Exclusion Law of 1858. In both cases, the state oversteps its jurisdiction and attempts — and arguably succeeds — in influencing federal immigration statutes by passing Orwellian state laws that criminalize immigration into its borders. And, in both cases, we see these laws enacted during a time of fervent anti-minority anger (than against Chinese, now against Latinos) and as part of a series of state and local laws targeting specific minority groups.

The only difference here is that whereas the Chinese Exclusion Law of 1858 paved the way for the devastating Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (which stayed in effect for 60 years until it was repealed in 1943 by the Magnuson Act which finally allowed people of Chinese descent to naturalize as American citizens), there is still time to interrupt the sentiments that allowed SB 1070 to pass from making it to the halls of the federal legislature.

To that end, Asian Americans cannot remain quiet about SB 1070. Our community has lived the consequences of SB 1070, and the nearly 100 years of institutionalized racism that a law like SB 1070 introduces against a minority people. This is the very month when we are supposed to remember our history — so let us do just that: we cannot allow America to forget the lessons that our history teaches.

Univ. of Arizona Protest Against SB 1070

This afternoon, I attended an on-campus protest organized by University of Arizona students against SB 1070. Several hundred people were in attendance, and the protest lasted roughly an hour in the middle of the day, with people standing for as long as they could in 90 degree heat — all in order to express their displeasure regarding SB 1070. Protesters also signed a circulating petition calling on UA president Robert Shelton to condemn SB 1070, and direct campus police not to carry out the law when it comes into effect this summer.

Here are some pictures from the protest:

The crowd grew bigger over the course of the afternoon, peaking at a few hundred.
Protesters used umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun.

 Some of the speakers were alright: 

Like this guy, who was pretty animated.

But, honestly, some of the speakers seemed more intent on reliving the sixties’ protest era than on actually making the case against SB 1070. For example, one enthusiastic speaker argued that SB 1070 was an example of heterosexism, and would in practice be both anti-queer and anti-woman. Another speaker urged us to follow the migrant children in order to find our souls. I’m sorry, but huh?

But, as with all protests, the point is to express one’s outrage and disappointment over an unjust action. And for many protesters, that was accomplished by protest signs. Here are some great ones:

This one was easily my favourite.
A little simplistic, but we get the reference to racial profiling (in essence redndering "brown-ness" a crime)...
I still want to know: what does illegal look like?
This was by far the better side of this sign. The other side read something like "UA Abjure Nativist Hysteria" -- which requires a dictionary to properly understand

But then, there were also some protest signs that were just ill-conceived and in poor taste. I do not agree with the sentiments in these signs: 

Godwin's Law!
There are so many things wrong with this sign, I don't even know where to start...

And, of course, with every protest of this magnitude, you get the haters, who come to desperately represent the “other side”. This woman accosted the local news reporters who were trying desperately not to die from sunstroke, and remarked (rather loudly), “All they want to do is to open the borders. They’re trying to take over.”

The woman in the green suffers from fears of the Brown Peril.

And we caught a picture of one dude flipping off the protest as he walked by.

Because that's the level of debate we're at right now. The two middle fingers are just above the girl's head, right in the center of the image.

All in all, while the protest had its ups and downs, it felt good to hit the streets and express my own disapproval of SB 1070. I think it’s important that those of us who spend time blogging about injustice actually make the effort to extend our activism beyond the internet. It’s not enough to just point out inequity and racism around us, we must take the time to actually enact change — even if it’s just by adding our voices with others in civil protest.

Do I Look Illegal?

Do I look illegal?

Some 50,000 people, including myself, agreed to participate in a Facebook-based protest movement against Arizona’s racist anti-immigrant law. Although the event is no longer on Facebook, I’m still participating.

Act Now! To participate, change your profile picture to be one of you holding a sign that asks “do I look illegal?”; keep it on your Facebook between May 1 – May 8.

Also, you can send a copy of the picture to Governor Jan Brewer’s office. Her mailing address is:

The Honorable Jan Brewer
Governor of Arizona
1700 West Washington
Phoenix, Arizona 85007

Note: Yes, I do own a Hello Kitty! trucker hat. And she’s riding a unicorn. You got a problem with that?

SB 1070: It’s Not THAT Inconvenient…

Folks in support of SB 1070 have argued that it’s not that inconvient to have to carry your immigration papers everywhere you go. Well, I just got this from my local international students and services office:

Be certain to keep your I-94 card safe.  If the I-94 card is lost, stolen or damaged, it must be replaced by applying for a replacement through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Currently USCIS charges $320 and the average processing time is 2.5 months.  As a result, it is a costly and time-consuming process to replace an I-94 card.

So… SB 1070 tells international students and legal immigrants to keep your immigration documents in a safe place. As long as that safe place is your purse or your back pocket. And if you lose your immigration papers? Why, that’ll only be $320 of your money, and 3 months of your time when you cannot leave the country.

Yep, totally convenient.

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Categories Categories Arizona, Immigration, Local