In truth, the calculus for Governor Jan Brewer was straightforward: she could have signed SB 1070 into law and appease the increasingly fundamentalist Right-wing Arizona lobby, improving her odds in this year’s hotly contested Republican primary for the Governorship. Or, she could have vetoed a bill she had to have known was morally wrong, and thereby commit political suicide.
Clearly, Jan Brewer prizes her own political ambitions over the civil rights of Arizona residents.
This afternoon, Brewer signed into law SB 1070, which grants Arizona local and state law enforcement officers the power to arrest and detain suspected illegal immigrants, charging them with a state misdemeanor crime of trespassing for either being an undocumented alien, or for being a legal immigrant who forgets their immigration paperwork at home. In fact, under SB 1070 law enforcement officers must only have a “reasonable suspicion” that a person may be an undocumented immigrant in order to initiate drastic, Orwellian measures to ascertain that person’s immigration status, including arresting those whom they feel are not able to satisfactorily demonstrate their legal status.
In her press conference, Governor Brewer addressed some of the nationwide criticism of SB 1070, but much of what she said was disingenuous and misleading.
First of all, Brewer argues that the bill, which makes it a state crime for legal aliens to not have their alien registration cards on their person is language directly copied from federal laws. This is an impractical requirement for legal residents and immigrants, who face even more severe penalties for losing their immigration documents by trying to carry it with them at all times. The current status quo expects immigrants to produce paperwork when their is a reasonable expectation that it will be checked (i.e. when we are travelling by air or across state lines) by trained U.S. Border Patrol officers, but allows us to run to the corner store for a Vitamin Water without fear of being harassed for our paperwork. But, now, we will be expected to have our immigration paperwork at all times, whether we are driving to work or walking the dog. And God forbid we witness any crimes, it would be better for us to run home and get our passport before we call 9-1-1.
Secondly, Brewer argues that state and local law enforcement officers will only be enforcing federal law. But that’s the crux of the issue, isn’t it? State and local police are not trained federal officers — they are trained to enforce state and local law. Do cops receive extensive training on all federal immigration laws, such that they are capable of distinguishing between those who are here on legal student or tourist visas compared to those who are here past their visa expiration? Do local cops know about the necessary paperwork I needed to be on a TN visa, or how long a grace period I have between when I entered the country as a Canadian and when I have over-stayed? Surely, the answer is no — which begs the question, will cops be arresting aliens whose legal status is in question until they have time to contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as they are required to do by this new state law? How long will that take? Could we end up with a system where a drunk driver be in jail for less time than a legal resident alien?
Thirdly, Brewer cites the vast criminality associated with Mexican drug crimes south of the U.S.-Mexico border as justification for SB 1070. Yet, SB 1070 does nothing to address drug-related homicides and drug trafficking into the United States from Mexico. It does not change federal immigration law. It, in fact, reduces state safety and security by diverting local law enforcement’s attention away from enforcing state and local laws, and by deputizing them to enforce federal law. What happens if you’re the victim of a petty theft — will it take longer for cops to respond because they’re spending more time figuring out if some other person has his immigration paperwork in order?
Lastly, and perhaps most gallingly, Brewer argues that SB 1070 requires cops to have a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is an illegal immigrant before asking for paperwork. But what constitutes a “reasonable suscpicion”? If not racial information, what kind of physical appearance or behaviour could distinguish a legal immigrant from an illegal one?
Brewer argues that racial profiling is illegal, both federally and according to Arizona state law. So, she says,
“I will not tolerate racial discrimination or racial profiling in Arizona. Because I feel so strongly on this subject, I worked for weeks with legislators to amend SB 1070 and strengthen its civil rights protection. That effort led to new language in the bill, language prohibition law enforcement officers from, and I quote, “solely considering race, colour or national origins in implementing the requirements of this section”.
Well, I looked for that quote in the amended text of SB 1070. And, in point of fact, Brewer is referring to a section that would prevent the attorney general from pursuing any complaints against an employer suspected of hiring illegal immigrants based solely on racial or ethnic origins information. It does not refer, in any way, to the sections defining what a “reasonable suspicion” of illegal immigration status would be for state cops.
In addition, Brewer signed an executive order today, requiring that law enforcement officers receive training as to what constitutes “reasonable suspicion” of illegal immigration status. Which begs the question again: what, exactly, distinguishes a legal immigrant from an illegal immigrant in terms of physical appearance and/or behaviour that isn’t racial?
Well, Brewer might have been thinking about her own political future when she signed SB 1070 into law today, but I think she’s just fired up her Democratic opposition. I received the following email from Luis Heredia, Executive Director of Arizona’s Democratic Party, mere moments after SB 1070 was signed by Brewer. In it, Heredia writes:
Brewer and her right-wing Legislature have done serious damage to our state. The far-reaching impact is not yet known, but it’s safe to say that it will be devastating for our economy and the citizens of our once-great state.
Act Now! Meanwhile, Brewer faces a hotly contested Republican primary battle this November, and current Arizona Attorney General, Democrat Terry Goddard, is the frontrunner to challenge the Republican gubernatorial candidate this year. I say we boot Brewer from the governorship, and funnel our support into Goddard’s gubernatorial campaign. Let’s show Arizona how many people Brewer pissed off in the state and around the country today.