As if SB1070 isn't bad enough, here comes the "anchor-baby" bill

From the Restore Fairness blog.

In an interesting new take on Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, Arizona attorneys Maria V. Jones and Kara Hartzler give us a glimpse into just how flawed and impractical the law is. Once it gets implemented on July 29th, the lawyers claim that it has the potential to completely overwhelm the state’s court system. Jones, chairwoman of the bar association’s Immigration Law Section, referred to the law’s ambiguous and “legally onerous” clauses and said that “SB 1070’s implementation will create the legal-system equivalent of stepping into a minefield.”

The lawyers said that once enforcement of SB1070 begins, the number of civil and criminal cases in the courts could triple overnight, and while they were quick in passing the law, the government has done very little to prepare for it by way of additional funds and staff for a state court system that “already has a backlog of cases.” The Arizona attorneys were especially critical of the provision in the law that allows local residents to sue the authorities for not enforcing it properly. If they are cautious about detaining people, they could open themselves up to lawsuits claiming they failed to execute it. On the other hand, if they enforce it too aggressively, as the law enables them to do, then police could end up detaining a number of U.S. citizens, which could lead to “wrongful-arrest lawsuits,” Hartzler says. Either way, it places local law enforcement in a no-win situation that could be costly, complicated and quite counter-productive.

By placing U.S. citizens who look “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented in danger of being detained, the implications of SB1070 would be reminiscent of the terrible consequences of the “Chandler Round-Up” of 1997, when police officers spread out across Phoenix looking for undocumented immigrants. In a terrifying 5-day crackdown that involved questioning children while they were walking home from school, dozens and dozens of legal residents and U.S. citizens were detained for speaking Spanish or looking Mexican.

This time around, we still have no guarantee that SB1070 will not lead to racial profiling. In an extremely disturbing defense of the law by Iowa Congressman Steve King, he stood by the aspects of the law that could lead police to stop people based on their appearance saying that racial profiling is an “important component” of law enforcement. Reminding us of Senator Bilbray’s comments about how trained officers could identify undocumented people based on their clothes and shoes, Rep. King said-

Some claim that the Arizona law will bring about racial discrimination profiling. First let me say, Mr. Speaker, that profiling has always been an important component of legitimate law enforcement. If you can’t profile someone, you can’t use those common sense indicators that are before your very eyes. Now, I think it’s wrong to use racial profiling for the reasons of discriminating against people, but it’s not wrong to use race or other indicators for the sake of identifying that are violating the law…It’s just a common sense thing. Law enforcement needs to use common sense indicators…what kind of shoes people wear, what kind of accident they have, um, the, the type of grooming they might have, there’re, there’re all kinds of indicators there and sometimes it’s just a sixth sense and they can’t put their finger on it.

A law that calls for police officers to detain people based on their shoes, their “grooming, what type of “accidents” they have and the officer’s “sixth sense.” Can it get worse than this? Well it just did.   Arizona Republican state representative John Kavanagh announced his plans for introducing a bill that will disallow children born to undocumented parents in the United States from automatically gaining citizenship. Referred to as the “anchor baby” bill, Kavanagh’s bill has already come under direct criticism for contradicting the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 1868 amendment that allowed for citizenship for freed slaves, accords citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” Not surprisingly, Russell Pearce, who is the main author of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, is a key sponsor on the new legislation, which Arizona Republicans intend to introduce in this fall. According to Pearce and Kavanagh, this law only serves to preserve the 14th amendment by ensuring that it does not continue to be “hijacked” by immigrants.

It is becoming more and more apparent that these new pieces of anti-immigrant legislation are functioning as conduits for hate and racism in ways that are extremely disturbing. In the face of these developments, we must remember the core tenets of the Declaration of Independence, equality, freedom and dignity, that enable us to strive for values of fairness and due process for all, regardless of our national origin, race, religion, or citizenship.

Photo courtesy of aolnews.com

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Vulnerable communities react to Arizona's new law

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Last Thursday, 10 year old Katherine Figueroa sat in a room in a Capitol Hill building in Washington DC telling Members of Congress about her personal encounter with immigration enforcement. Fighting back the tears, the young girl pleaded to the Democratic Members of Congress who were assembled, “Please tell President Obama to stop putting parents in jail, all they want is a better life for their kids.”She told the story of how her aunt took her in after her parents were arrested by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies. “I would also have bad dreams where the Arpaio deputies would take my aunt, her family and me to jail,” Katherine said. This brings to mind the poignant question from a second grader that caught the First Lady Michelle Obama off guard last month, with her honest fear for her family momentarily forcing the issue out of the political realm and into reality.

Katherine’s testimony was part of an ad-hoc Congressional hearing that took place in a packed committee room on Capital Hill and was attended by Democratic Members of Congress. One of the witnesses, Silvia Rodriguez, thanked Colorado Democrat Jared Polis for referring to her as an “American,” saying that it was one of the first times she had ever been called one. Her testimony and obvious pain brought tears to Rep. Polis’ eyes.

The event, a forum for Members of Congress to hear the stories of  women and children who were directly affected by Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070, had been organized by Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva and a number of labor and civil rights organizations such as the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the National Domestic Worker Alliance, the AFL-CIO, the Family Values at Work Consortium and Jobs with Justice. The aim of the hearing was to illustrate the direct impact that extreme immigration enforcement measures such as SB1070 have on women and children, who are the most vulnerable members of immigrant populations, to demonstrate the extremely urgent need for a comprehensive overhaul of existing immigration laws, and to pressure the Obama administration and Congress to prevent the implementation of SB1070. Silvia Rodriguez, the witness mentioned earlier, appealed directly to President Obama at the end of her testimony. She said,

The only time that I felt to be the slightest happy, or accepted or proud by this country was when President Obama won his presidency. For him to not step up and fulfill his promises, really, really breaks a lot of hearts.

President Obama’s campaign promise of immigration reform fade from memory as such legislation looks less and less probable in this election year. Unless blocked by any of the five legal challenges that have been filed since Gov. Brewer signed the bill in to law on April 23rd, SB1070 is scheduled to take effect on July 29th. In addition to the horrific stories presented by the women at the June 10th hearing, community groups such as Puente, working on the ground in Arizona, have reported a massive increase in incidents of racial discrimination since the law was signed. While race has always been directly linked to immigration law, measures such as SB1070 have spurred on more instances of discrimination such as the case of a blood bank in Arizona refusing to take the blood of people who only speak Spanish.

Opposition to the tough measure has been coming from all sides, and most minority groups and communities of color worry that they will be targeted by its harsh clauses that allow police to stop and question people based on the degree to which they appear “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented. Most recently, the country’s largest Native American reservation, the Navajo National Council, voted to officially oppose Arizona’s new enforcement measure during a special session convened for this purpose. Council Delegate Kee Allen Begay sponsored the measure which he thinks will definitely be used to harass Native Americans, specially given the strong resemblance between the Hispanic communities and Native Americans.

As opposition to the law grows, so does copy-cat legislation in other states across the country. On Saturday, Texas Republicans voted for a law that would require police officers to immediately check the immigration status of people arrested on suspicion of a crime, even before their culpability on the crime has been proven.  It is imperative that the Federal government wakes up to the large-scale detrimental effects that a laws like Arizona’s SB1070 will have on communities, on state unity, and on the economy.

Photo courtesy of csmonitor.com

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False hype about crime in border cities has tragic implications

From the Restore Fairness blog.

On June 7th, a Border Patrol agent allegedly shot and killed Sergio Adrián Hernández Huereca, a 14- year old Mexican boy in El Paso, Texas. While exact details of the incident remain murky, the FBI said that the shooting was prompted when border patrol agents were assaulted by rock throwers across the Mexican border. Even though no border patrol agent was injured, T.J. Bonner, the president of the union representing Border Patrol agents released a statement saying that given the common occurrence and potential danger of rock throwing incidents at the border, he classified it as a “deadly force encounter” that “justifies the use of deadly force.” Susan Lee, American director of Amnesty International condemned the shooting of the young boy saying-

This shooting across the border appears to have been a grossly disproportionate response and flies in the face of international standards which compel police to use firearms only as a last resort, in response to an immediate, deadly threat that cannot be contained through lesser means.

Following condemnation from the Mexican President and government and from civil rights groups in the US, the FBI has launched a full scale investigation into the shooting. At this point it is still not known whether the boy was even involved in the rock throwing. This incident comes only weeks after Anastacio Hernandez, a 32- year old father of five U.S. born children, was hit in the stomach with a baton and then shocked with a stun gun fired by a Customs and Border Protection officer at the San Ysidro border crossing when he resisted being deported. Once again, the officers involved were completely unharmed and insisted that their use of force was necessary given the situation. Last week, the San Diego County coroner ruled his death a homicide.

Speaking to CNN, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley acknowledge that the death of the young Mexican boy is not an isolated incident and committed to a fully transparent, large-scale investigation. He said that the only long-term solution to tragic incidents like these was the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

Instead of working towards comprehensive immigration reform, the White House has succumbed to political pressure to increase immigration enforcement. This tragic incident occurs in the wake of the White House decision to add $500 million to border enforcement and send 1200 more troops to “secure the border” against so-called waves of violence at the border. Bipartisan members of Congress wrote to President Obama about the “urgent” need for increased border enforcement saying-

Violence in the vicinity of the U.S.-Mexico border continues to increase at an alarming rate. We believe that this violence represents a serious threat to the national security of the United States as well as a serious threat to U.S. citizens that live along the 1,969-mile long border.

In spite of numerous reports that constantly disprove such hype about increased border crime rates, politicians continue to take recourse to it time and again. As politicians like John McCain and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer insist on the need for increased enforcement at the border to protect U.S. citizens from crime committed by immigrants, a recent FBI report obtained by the Associated Press on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act has found that the top four safest big cities in the U.S. are all in the border states. According to the new FBI report, San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin are big cities that have the lowest rates of violent crime in the U.S. With respect to killings at the hands of U.S. Border Patrol it is important to note a Customs and Border Protection report that shows that Border agents face far less danger than local law enforcement in most U.S. cities. From the Associated Press:

The Customs and Border Protection study, obtained with a Freedom of Information Act request, shows 3 percent of Border Patrol agents and officers were assaulted last year, mostly when assailants threw rocks at them. That compares with 11 percent of police officers and sheriff’s deputies assaulted during the same period, usually with guns or knives. In addition, violent attacks against agents declined in 2009 along most of the border for the first time in seven years.

In the face of concrete research, evidence and admissions from U.S. Border and Customs personnel themselves stating that the southern U.S. “border is safer now than it’s ever been,” is it astonishing that politicians and lawmakers continue to use the myth of the “immigrant threat” to safety as justification for increased immigration enforcement. Arizona Gov. Brewer, who signed off on the draconian anti-immigrant law, SB1070, made numerous statements justifying the law that relied on the myth of widespread crimes being perpetrated as a result of immigration at the border. Before her meeting with President Obama to express her frustration at the Federal Government’s lack of action in securing the border, Gov. Brewer told the press-

We are out here on the battlefield getting the impact of all this illegal immigration, and all the crime that comes with it.

A few days ago we brought you concrete statistics proving that Arizona’s “crime wave” is nothing but racist hype and fear-mongering. Research released by the Immigration Policy Center proves that immigrants are, in fact, less likely to commit crime than non-immigrants, with crime rates being lowest in cities with El Paso, Texas, with a high population of undocumented immigrants. El Paso, where 14-year old Sergio Adrián Hernández Huereca was killed, is one of the poorest and safest cities in the United States.

It would be useful if lawmakers and politicians took note of police chiefs from around the country who have taken a stance against the implementation of SB1070, Arizona’s new law. 8 police chiefs, including two from Arizona, met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on May 27 to urge the Department of Justice to put a stop to SB1070, which they believe will make their jobs harder by diverting resources away from policing actual crime and eroding the trust between the community and local police; trust that is necessary for effective law enforcement. It is surprising that more local law enforcement officials have not spoken out against laws such as SB1070. On June 10th, 55 organizations in NYC, including us at Breakthrough, signed a letter to NYPD chief Raymond Kelly urging him to break his silence and publicly condemn SB1070 just as New York Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council has done.

With states like Arizona taking immigration law into their own hands, and the Federal Government pushing an enforcement only approach appeases politicians and invests in border security and partnerships between Federal immigration officials and local law enforcement, valuable time and energy is being diverted away from the only sustainable solution- humane and comprehensive immigration reform.

Photo courtesy of the elpasotimes.com

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You think YOU'RE outraged? [VIDEO]

Jan Brewer and other out-of-touch officials continue to make Arizona famous for all the wrong reasons. Our accidental governor recently signed into law a ban on ethnic studies and a ban on human-animal hybrids. And just last week, a Prescott city councilman publicly called for artists to "lighten the skin" on images of children in a school mural.

Join the 5,000 Arizonans who have signed the Arizona Fights Back petition. Help us stop Gov. Brewer and extremist Republicans in Arizona and elect more Democrats this November.

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A mural in Arizona lightens as race issues get darker

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Some months ago, local artists in Prescott, Arizona were commissioned to paint a “Go Green” mural outside Miller Valley Elementary School to promote environmentally friendly transportation. The finished piece featured portraits of four children, with a Latino boy holding a central place, drawn from photographs of children that attended Miller Valley, one of the most ethnically diverse schools in Prescott. But R.E. Wall, the artist that headed the downtown mural project, said that the artists working on the mural were regularly subjected to racial slurs and epithets while they were painting the two large walls located in the middle of one of the town’s most trafficked intersections. Comments such as “you’re desecrating our school,”" Get that n***** off our wall,”" Get the s*** off the wall” were common.

Recently, the school principal Jeff Lane asked the artists to alter the mural by lightening the skin tone of the children depicted in it. While he insisted that his alteration request was purely an aesthetic one related to shading “that made the faces darker than they are,” it is difficult not to attribute his alteration order to the taunts and racial comments that the mural was receiving. Wall said that the principal asked him to make the children’s faces appear “happier and brighter,” but he is convinced that “it is being lightened because of the controversy.”

Prescott City Councilman Steve Blair has led a public campaign on his talk show on a Prescott radio station (KYCA-AM) to remove the mural. Without doubt, Blair’s raving about the mural on his show has added fuel to an already brewing controversy. “Art is in the eye of the beholder, but I say [the mural] looks like graffiti in L.A.,” Blair said. Following that, he mistook the ethnicity of the child at the center of the mural and said on his radio show -

I am not a racist individual, but I will tell you depicting a black guy in the middle of that mural, based upon who’s President of the United States today and based upon the history of this community, when I grew up we had four black families – who I have been very good friends with for years – to depict the biggest picture on that building as a black person, I would have to ask the question, Why?

He finished his rant off saying that diversity is a word he “can’t stand.”

Something very worrying is afoot when it comes to race in Arizona, and it brings to mind a certain new Arizona law, scheduled to go into effect at the end of July, that makes it a crime to be undocumented in the state, and mandates local police to question and detain people who appear “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented.

The problem is being made worse by the ill-founded justification that is being bandied about for the new racial profiling law. Media personalities like Bill O’Reilly and legislators like Russell Pearce (the sponsor of SB 1070) have popularized the misnomer that laws like these are the only solution to an exploding crime rate in Arizona, which they link to its immigrant population. Bill O’ Reilly’s rhetoric in defense of the new law goes like this-

“The Arizona authorities say we’re desperate. We don’t have the money. Our crime problem is through the roof. Phoenix one of the most dangerous cities in the country. We got to do something.” (May 4, 2010); “So the state of Arizona faced with an overwhelming crime problem, social chaos and a bankrupt treasury had to do something.” (May 6, 2010); “Arizona is  overrun with crime and everything else and people getting slaughtered on their ranches. I mean, it’s insane.” (May 21, 2010)

The folks at FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) have produced a solid list of figures that counter O’ Reilly and prove that the crime wave in Arizona is nothing but racist hype and fear-mongering. In reality, crime rates have been on the decrease in Arizona for many years despite the presence of undocumented immigrants. The city of Phoenix issued a statement saying that in spite of a growing population and challenging economy -

Violent and property crimes in Phoenix continue to drop…The numbers of crimes in 2009 are on track to be the lowest in 15 years…Through November 2009, Phoenix’s violent crime rate has continued to decline, dropping 18 percent over the same period in 2008.

If people like O’ Reilly did their research they would have come across a report released by the Immigration Policy Center that explicitly states that immigrants are, in fact, less likely to commit crime than non-immigrants. According to the 2008 report, crime rates are lowest in states that have a high immigrant population, often making them safer than other places. For example, it notes that El Paso, Texas, a poor city with a large population of undocumented people, is one of the safest cities in the United States. A 2007 University of California Study found that for any ethnic group, the rates of incarceration for young men were consistently lowest for immigrants, regardless of their education or class status.

The good news is that since FAIR circulated their “Stop O’Reilly” petition, he seems to have held back on his false accusations. Unfortunately though, this will not prevent the draconian SB1070 from being implemented on July 29th and with such a law in action that works to generate a fear of local law enforcement in the community, we can probably count on efficient crime solving going from bad to worse. Worst of all the implications of such a law (and the racial profiling that it will encourage) is that incidents such as the one in Prescott will seem less and less outrageous in a culture where the state itself sanctions questioning people based on their perceived appearance.

Photo courtesy of nydailynews.com

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