South Tucson Responds to Immigration Bill

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Written by Nathan Mitchell/El Independiente

AZ SB 1070 AZ IMMIGRATION BILL
  • NATHAN MITCHELL
  • Isabel Garcia, the leader of Derechos Humanos, protests against SB 1070 at Raul Grijalva's headquarters.
With the global spotlight on Arizona's new immigration law, South Tucson has begun preparations to enforce the aggressive and contentious "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act," better known as SB 1070.

The new legislation, which Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law April 23, makes it a crime to be in Arizona without proper immigration documentation and requires police to check for legal status. Without legal documentation, a person can be fined up to $2,500, jailed and deported. The law also makes it illegal to knowingly transport illegal migrants or hire day laborers off the street.

The South Tucson Police Department has begun discussing the training necessary to properly enforce the law.

The Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board will determine the exact guidelines for enforcement, due in May.

South Tucson Police Chief Richard Muñoz, who said he was opposed to the law before it was passed, will now be meeting with the department's legal adviser to define how best to enforce it.

"We want to make sure all the officers are on the same page making sure there is reasonable suspicion," he said. "There has to be a lawful stop."

Despite the South Tucson city government being in "lock-sync" over the offensive nature of the law, they plan to uphold it, South Tucson City Manger Enrique Serna said.

The legislation has nationwide protests and led many local and national activists and organizations to call for court challenges and federal immigration reform. Opponents of the bill say it will encourage racial profiling and violate civil rights.

"Our population is going to be the ones whose rights are going to be violated," Serna said. "The necessary evil of this legislation is the racial profiling."

Bernardo Lopez, a South Tucson shuttle driver, said he strongly opposes the law.

"For the simple fact of being dark skinned, we will have problems," he said. "Only God knows what sorts of things will happen."

Nathalie Perez, an undocumented immigrant who works in the south Tucson area, said that not every illegal immigrant is a criminal.

"A lot of us are working," she said. "We are invisible, but we still pay taxes."

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who stated in an open letter on the Maricopa County Republican Committee Web site: "I guarantee this will save American jobs, reduce the cost of government, improve neighborhood safety, improve congestion, move toward smaller classrooms, shorter lines in emergency rooms, reduce rapes and molestations and reduce the number of deaths and maiming of our citizens and more."

President Barack Obama criticized the bill just hours before it was signed. "If we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country," he said.

But Brewer signed the bill stating that it "protects every Arizona citizen," a conclusion many disagree with.

"It's not fair for the people who want to move forward and work here," said Joel, who did not give his full name because of his legal status. "The option is to move to other states. That, more than anything, will affect Arizona."

The Mexico government issued a warning to its citizens on April 27 against travel in Arizona, saying, "It must be assumed that every Mexican citizen may be harassed and questioned without further cause at any time."

Mexican President Felipe Calderón condemned the law in a speech saying that the law "opens the door to intolerance, hate, discrimination and abuse in law enforcement."

SB 1070 AZ IMMIGRATION BILL
  • OTTO ROSS
  • Tucson Councilman Richard Fimbres stands with other protestors against the bill at Grijalva's headquarters.

And, on April 29, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Immigration Law Center announced in Phoenix that they are mounting a legal challenge centered on whether 1070 interferes with the federal government's duty to deal with immigration issues. An array of other individuals and organizations are expected to mount legal challenges.

In other states like California and Texas, laws similar to 1070 have been struck down because of the unconstitutionality of states taking over immigration responsibilities that are supposed to be the purview of the federal government.

In Arizona, those opposed to 1070 have demonstrated in Tucson, Phoenix and other cities for days before and after the bill was signed.

Isabel Garcia, leader of Derechos Humanos, a Tucson-based civil rights group, called the law the most racist since the Jim Crow laws.

She points out that such large numbers of immigrants cross the Arizona border as a result of years of legal action intended to direct the traffic there.

"It's too easy to cast the stone on Brewer and Pearce, who, of course, are horrific, but we have to understand that they are products of what we allowed to be created," she said. "We didn't stand up until they got their crown jewel. I call this bill their crown jewel of the anti-immigration movement."

Led by President Bill Clinton's administration, the Immigration and Naturalization Service enacted two projects that resulted in greatly increased immigration through Arizona. Operation Gatekeeper secured the San Diego, Calif., border, and Operation Hold the Line did the same in El Paso, Texas. The crackdowns in these states pushed immigration traffic away from cities into more remote areas along the Arizona border.

In 2001 Operation Safeguard increased Border Patrol presence in the Tucson area and built a fence on the Nogales border, which further drove crossers into more remote areas.

INS assumed the harsh terrain would deter crossers, but the number of crossings deaths on the Arizona-Mexico border has grown since.

The chaos caused by this buildup is responsible for the current political climate surrounding Arizona immigration policy, Garcia said.

AZ SB 1070
  • NATHAN MITCHELL
  • Protestors against AZ SB 1070 picket in support of Grijalva at his headquarters.
"We are down a black hole," she said after speaking to a packed plaza the day after the bill was signed.

"Resistance, resistance and more resistance" must come next, she said.

Congressman Raúl Grijalva, D-Tucson, District 7, has called for a national boycott of Arizona. The boycott will call for organizations to refrain from holding conventions in the state. He says it is an effort to bring the law further into the national spotlight, with reform of national immigration laws as the final goal.

Among the voices against the law is former Tucson council member Steve Leal. He sees the law as a denigration of civil rights and supports a boycott.

"I would prefer it if people did the right thing for the right reason — like everybody cared about everybody's civil rights," he said of the boycott. "All (Republicans) are really motivated by, aside from hate, is money. So if you take away their money they might go, 'Well, we're willing to change our mind.'"

Nohemi Ramirez and Jeff Feld contributed reporting for this story.

Jeff Feld, Nathan Mitchell and Nohemi Ramirez are reporters for the South Tucson newspaper El Independiente. Feld, Mitchell and Ramirez are seniors at the UA School of Journalism.

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