As campaigns progress and elections occupy the minds of politicians and citizens alike, immigration issues have once again come to the forefront of political discussion. In the hot seat this time is Arizona’s controversial legislation Senate Bill 1070. The law, which was signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in 2010, has been under attack since it was first passed. While the supporters of the law maintain that its purpose is to aid the federal government in the task of enforcing federal immigration laws, the reality of the bill is not so noble. As stated in the bill itself, the goal of the statute is to “make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in the state of Arizona,” or in simpler terms, it seeks to deter undocumented immigrants from entering and living in Arizona by continuously exerting a sustained attack on undocumented immigrants and their families.
Designated local law enforcement officers are now able to enforce federal immigration laws through what can only be described as unfair and unprecedented racial profiling. SB 1070 requires officials to check the citizenship status of anybody they stop during their work who they believe is either in the country illegally, or has committed a deportable offense. This is a piece of legislation that speaks for the level of racism the American public and politicians harbor toward those of Hispanic origin. Allowing law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they “suspect” to be an undocumented immigrant is an obvious violation not only of the Constitution, but of basic human rights as well. Even more appalling is the fact that the officers assigned to this job are not required to have knowledge of federal immigration law, nor have they received training to prepare them for such a task. They are essentially asked to employ their own basic stereotypes in the name of the law to protect us from a threat that can’t be proven to actually exist.
It is perhaps useful to identify some of the main proponents of the anti-immigration movement. Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minutemen, gives several reasons outlining his belief that undocumented immigrants will harm the American economy and way of life. He brings forth several issues such as crime rate, the stress they put on our educational systems, and his general belief that American taxpayers do not feel as if they should have to pay for people that aren’t contributing to their community—in other words, people who aren’t paying taxes. However, undocumented immigrants do pay taxes on things like social security, and receive none of the benefits in return. These assumptions about the contributions of undocumented immigrants are an example of the nativism that is rampant in our country. Nativism can be simply defined as the act of favoring native inhabitants over other members of the community. Despite this, proponents such as Gilchrist believe these contributions do not justify the presence of the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. This Bill is merely further proof of nativism. While both citizens and immigrants contribute equally to our economy, preference for care is given to citizens.
Although the state bill was signed in Arizona, it is currently awaiting judicial review. The Supreme Court will decide whether or not the bill is in violation of the Constitution and/or federal laws sometime over the summer.
However, even as the fate of the bill is decided, the topic has become popular in the wake of presidential elections as a bargaining chip to gain voters. Former Republican Senator, Russell Pearce, is the main advocator of this bill. His argument is that undocumented immigrants are a danger, citing the case of a rancher that was shot by a man that may have been Hispanic, and even dragging 9/11 into the debate as an example of the problems of illegal immigration to show that every immigrant is a danger. This past week, he was grilled on Capitol Hill by several Democratic senators regarding not the Constitutionality of the Bill, but rather the implications of racial profiling.
As these politicians squabble for more votes, the real heart of the matter is being placed on the back burners. Arizona’s SB 1070 is simply a symptom of a much larger problem that has plagued immigration law since its foundations. The reality is that this law is reflective of flaws present throughout the entire immigration system employed by the United States; utilizing an enforcement-based strategy for an issue that simply cannot and should not be solved by force is counter-intuitive. Furthermore, the existence of the state’s bill is only made possibly by Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a much more far-reaching piece of federal legislation. The language used in SB 1070 is further proof of the problems of foundational law and nativism in the United States. Throughout the bill, undocumented immigrants are referred to as “Aliens.” This dehumanizing language only serves to encourage this sort of nativism and “us versus them” mentality. When such an important piece of legislature deigns to use this sort of language, it sends a message to the public and those enforcing the law that undocumented immigrants are not to be treated as equals, or even as humans. Thankfully, bills like SB 1070 have helped highlight the critical errors within our immigration system, and to some extent they have alerted the public of their existence. What we need now is for people more actively prevent the passage of these policies in order to help stop similar bills from popping up in the future, ensuring equal treatment not only U.S. citizens, but for all people who call our country home.