The Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona’s immigration laws addresses part of the issue. But let’s name the elephant in the room: Racism.
The Supreme Court split decision on Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 law came just 10 days after President Obama’s memo expanding prosecutorial discretion and granted immediate deferred status to all DREAM Act eligible youth. While both announcements deserve to be celebrated in light of the tenacious and courageous organizing that precipitated them, they are not lasting solutions.
Four provisions of SB 1070 were in question: Section 3, which would make it a state crime for immigrants to fail to carry federal registration papers; Section 5(C) which would make it a state crime to work in Arizona as an undocumented person; Section 6, which would give police the authority to make warrantless arrests of individuals suspected to be undocumented; and Section 2(B) which would require Arizona law enforcement to verify the citizenship of any individual they stop if they appear to be undocumented.
Of these provisions, all were struck down but Section 2(B), the notorious “show me your papers” section of the law.
The Supreme Court’s decision was based on an argument about whether or not the state of Arizona has the right to create its own immigration enforcement rules. The case did not address civil rights’ violations or racial profiling. In fact Solicitor General Donald Verrilli (representing the US government), “unequivocally admitted in response to questioning from the Justices that racial profiling was not at issue in the case.”
So, let’s name the elephant in the room. Racism is and has always been an issue in Arizona. SB 1070 is steeped in, produced by, and serves to perpetuate racism. From the beginning, racism has been shaping America, when the first immigrants (read: pilgrims) arrived and stole the land from the Native peoples who lived here and still live here. In fact, many Native people in Arizona are harassed and humiliated in the name of S.B. 1070’s “show me your papers” provision by police officers whose foreparents were themselves this land’s original “illegal aliens.”
So what is the result of this case neatly sidestepping the issue that is creating a real civil and human rights crisis for real people in Arizona right now? What impact, if any, will the Supreme Court’s decision have on people living in Arizona?
Part of the answer lies in federal programs like Secure Communities and 287g that create collaboration between local law enforcement and Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE). If programs like these continue to exist in Arizona and throughout the country, the Supreme Court’s decision does little more than shift the terms on which immigrant communities are made to suffer. They do not provide a solution to end the suffering.
Whether states like Arizona are creating and enforcing their own racist immigration laws, or just committing massive civil rights violations while closely collaborating with federal agencies, the results are the same. Families are traumatically ripped apart, leaving wakes of emotional devastation and thousands of children lost into the foster care system. Dangerous mistrust is fostered between communities and local law enforcement, silencing both victims and witnesses of crime.
We also know that laws like SB 1070 and programs like Secure Communities and 287g have particularly egregious ramifications for women. Alma Chacón and Juana Villegas are two such women. Living in Arizona and Tennessee respectively, both were stopped while driving and sent to detention just days away from giving birth. Both women went into labor in detention and were transported to hospitals where law enforcement officers stayed in their rooms and required that hospital personnel keep them shackled to their beds at the ankles and wrists.They were not allowed to contact any family members. Alma Chacón was not allowed to hold her newborn daughter and was told that if no one came to pick her up she would be turned over to the state. It was 72 days before she saw her baby again. Neither woman was allowed access to a breast pump, adding severe physical pain to the psychological anguish of being separated from their newborns. Legitimate fears of detention and deportation and shattered trust with local law enforcement has also led to increased silence surrounding sexual, domestic and workplace abuse and exploitation.
There is hope, and it is a hope born of resistance. The Supreme Court left the law open to be challenged and the American Civil Liberties Union has already amassed a $8.77 million “war chest” to continue challenging the law and its copycats in Alabama, Georgia, Utah, South Carolina and Indiana on the grounds that they violate civil rights. The Department of Homeland Security has already rescinded portions of their 287g agreement with Arizona, and many immigrant and human rights groups are organizing locally to end the destructive relationship between police and federal immigration agencies (Check out Alto Arizona’s petition asking President Obama to cut off Arizona’s access to ICE).
Last week Alto Polimigra, an organization working to create a network of human and immigrant rights groups against the criminalization of immigrant communities, organized the Restoring the Trust Campaign National Week of Action Groups in over 15 cities organized vigils, press conferences, rallies, surveys to measure community trust in police, community forums, testimonials, workshops, know your rights trainings, marches, and even a satirical wedding ceremony marrying local police and ICE. As a result of similar community organizing operating on the basis that complicance with Secure Communities and 287g is. not in fact mandatory, Cook County, IL and the city of Chicago have stopped complying with ICE detainers. The city of Chicago is currently not allowing any arrests solely on immigration grounds. Santa Clara County, CA, also effectively ended their collaboration with ICE in 2011. The most comprehensive piece of anti-ICE police collaboration legislation proposed so far is California’s TRUST Act. The TRUST Act would mean that no localities could respond to ICE holds unless someone has been convicted of a violent felony offence, and would require counties to create plans to addresses racial profiling and protections for victims and witnesses of crimes. It has passed the senate, and is expected to pass the assembly. Organizers are hopeful that it will be on Governor Brown’s desk in September. California currently has the highest number of deportations of any state in the country, and passage of this act would create a significant shift away from the criminalization of immigrant communities nationwide.
Ultimately, we all play a part — whether as activists, organizers and allies, or as those who silently comply. As the DREAMers have so aptly shown through their unyielding actions (check out the National Immigrant Youth Alliance for inspiration and to get mobilized!), communities have power when they organize from their knowledge, their stories, and their experiences. Savvy interpretation of policy decisions and strategic legislative battles certainly are critical to this struggle, but perhaps more important is the strength of a self-determined movement. This is a movement that does not accept split Supreme Court decisions that tidily avoid realities of oppression or a presidential memo that holds as much ambiguity as it does hope as palliatives for true answers or solutions. It is a movement that will not end until hate and fear ends for all members of immigrant communities in the form of comprehensive, just, workable, and humane immigration reform. In the words of a member of Puente Arizona in this SB 1070 call to action video: “We cannot comply with hate, and we must pose that dilemma to everyone.”