Friday, May 21, 2010

S.B. 1070

Arizona has been in the news a lot lately. Our new state law to fight illegal immigration has drawn scorn locally, nationally and even internationally. There is much I could write about the controversy. But I’m not an immigration law expert, so this blog post will focus on the bill’s passage from a more personal, granular level.

First of all, the state bill seemed to come out of nowhere. I didn't hear any news coverage of it until right before it was enacted. Both civil and criminal immigration laws already existed at the federal level. Indeed, immigration has heretofore generally been a matter within exclusive federal jurisdiction. Meanwhile, our state has been dealing with unprecedented economic issues, e.g., high unemployment, a dire state budget deficit, the collapse of real estate prices, and a tragically high foreclosure rate. It seemed surprising to me that in that context the legislature would take on something new (i.e., immigration) when we're simultaneously slashing the state budget.

I am a member of the Arizona Asian American Bar Association, and received an e-mail from the organization’s leadership a couple days before the bill was signed into law. The e-mail explained that it was a nonpolitical organization, and typically did not take stands on legislation. However, the group was breaking from tradition and urging Governor Brewer to not sign S.B. 1070.

That same day, my Criminal Law class was fortunate enough to have a wonderful guest speaker, a lawyer who practices federal criminal law. During the Q & A period at the end of her lecture, one of my students asked her opinion on the pending state immigration law. I have known this lawyer for a few years, and she has not struck me as particularly partisan or radical in any way. Prior questions that day had sought her opinion on the war on drugs; she did not express a lot of interest in the policy issues involved, but indicated she did not think it would be wise to decriminalize narcotics. However, when the issue of Arizona’s pending immigration law was raised, this lawyer became much more animated. She was particularly incensed and frustrated at the accusation by the bill’s supporters that the federal government is not doing enough to fight illegal immigration. She noted how much time and how many resources were consumed in her own practice by the federal prosecution of immigration crimes. She also pointed out that Arizona is the busiest federal district in the entire country because of all the immigration crimes processed.

After Governor Brewer signed S.B. 1070, I was personally disappointed and more than a little stunned. But there are so many injustices in this world, and we all are busy with our own lives. The week after the bill was enacted, I was busy grading student memos, and my husband’s old car was getting a ton of repairs done. In the meantime, I was receiving semi-hysterical e-mail updates from Sojourners that S.B. 1070 now made it potentially a criminal offense to drive family members or neighbors to church. Sojourners was encouraging subscribers around the country to voice opposition to the new law.

Over the next few days, I kept hearing more and more about the bill on the radio. What I was hearing was that if a person was pulled over (e.g., for a traffic violation), and if the police had reasonable suspicion to think the person was in the country illegally, they could demand documentation to prove their immigration status. Supporters of S.B. 1070 are adamant that this new law will not lead to racial profiling. Indeed, they point out that racial profiling is illegal. But in all the news coverage, I have yet to hear a coherent explanation as to how police will come to have “reasonable suspicion” about one’s immigration status without paying attention to one’s race or ethnicity. That is very troubling. I’m Caucasian and my complexion is fairly pale unless I’ve been to the beach recently. But I’ve got brown eyes and very dark colored hair. On numerous occasions in the United States and in Mexico, I’ve been mistaken for someone of Hispanic heritage. I began to wonder if I ought to begin carrying my passport or voter registration card around just in case.

One evening, I heard an NPR interview with J.D. Hayworth, who is running against John McCain in the Republican primary for Senate. Mr. Hayworth is pretty conservative and is a viable contender for the nomination. As a result, Senator McCain has lately taken a less moderate position on several issues, most notably immigration reform. In the interview, Mr. Hayworth dispelled the notion that S.B. 1070 was aimed only at Hispanics. He conceded that due to our geography illegal immigration from Mexico was our biggest problem in Arizona, but he noted we also had a serious problem with Chinese nationals and people from the Middle East who were in Arizona illegally. My daughters are Chinese American. And in the past when we have encountered border patrol stops (e.g., crossing back from Canada, traveling through Texas, traveling through California), our family has had to endure intrusive questioning with ugly undertones that sometimes upset our children. The night I heard Mr. Hayworth’s interview, I talked to my husband privately about whether he needed to carry their passports when they were out running errands.

A woman at the law school where I work has been organizing a clothing drive for a local school district. She has been trying to get dressy clothes that seniors can wear to their graduation ceremonies. As she made a recent pitch for donations, she noted that the school district in question is in a lower income area and most of the students are Hispanic. She added that even those who have money to buy clothes for graduation are afraid to go shopping since the passage of S.B. 1070.

Since the law was enacted, there have been daily protests at the state capitol in Phoenix. On the second Saturday after enactment, our whole family went down to join the protests. There were a lot of other families with small children. We explained to our kids what was going on, and what a privilege it is to live in a country where we can speak our minds freely and not fear government reprisal. I told my older daughter about the Tiananmen Massacre that took place in the PRC even before she was ever born, and compared it to the peaceful protests against S.B. 1070. The two of us read the signs, t-shirts and banners that people brought to the Arizona state capitol that day. My husband, our daughters and I all joined in the march as organizers got us into a line to begin processing down the street. We added our voices to the cheers of “¡Sí, se puede!” and discussed with our kids what that phrase meant. Our younger daughter conked out pretty early on after we ran out of cold soda, and insisted my husband carry her. But my older daughter was a little trooper. She and I held hands, and walked with the crowd. We smiled at the television cameras and the police officers on duty to maintain order. It was a beautiful sunny day in Arizona, and it wasn’t yet that hot.

At one point as we were all marching, an angry man in a pick-up slowed down as he drove past us. His window was down and he shouted ugly words at the protesters. My first inclination was to think he was a jerk, and my face probably went into an instinctive glare. But some woman farther back in the line immediately shouted back to him “We love you!” I was shamed at her instinctive non-hostile, generous response. I have no idea who she was or what her beliefs were, but clearly she was reacting in a much more Christ-like way than I had. To my surprise, the angry man shouted back (though at a lower decibel level and a bit begrudgingly), “I love you too.” It was a little surreal.

That weekend at church, we read from John 13:34-35, and our pastor taught on the power of love. Specifically, she talked to us about how Jesus taught us to love people even though they may not be that lovable. It seemed a good follow-up to our experience at the protest. Later in that same church service, during our community’s prayers, our pastor asked God for a Christ-like resolution to our border issues. Amen.

Matthew 2:13-15 (New International)

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.


  1. Illegal is illegal They don't spend their money in the US to help our economy. They send it home to Mexico or their country of origin. This is big business for Mexico. Show papers or go home.
    Finally, Arizona has some legal relief from those commiting crimes, if they can find them. Glad this bill our border patrol. Build the fence!

    Do you agree with this opinion? Voice your opinion on all pressing Arizona legislation at

  2. This new law is not out of nowhere, this law is simply an enforcement of the Federal Law. Living in Arizona you must be aware of the amount of money the taxpayers pay yearly for illegals?! You must also be aware of the increasing amount of drug and human smuggling, the amount of violence and the number of violence and kidnappings. This law was a bandaid and we need to work on more enforcement on the border.

  3. Out of no where??? I know as life long Arizona resident that we've been complaining about the crime, violence against our police officers and drain of taxpayers money for years. They just finally gave the people what they want. Enforcement of the federal law.

  4. the enforcement of federal immigration laws is done at the border where people are actually caught in the commision of the crime. when do local or state authorities actually see someone crossing the border illegally? this is why they cannot enforce a federal jurisdiction. this law is going to open up a can of worms that nobody is prepared for.