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Apartheid, Arizona

Stephon Johnson | 5/6/2010, 10:46 a.m.

Immigration enforcement or racial profiling?

Despite protests from the Hispanic citizens of Arizona, which the Republican Party not long ago attempted to court, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed into law SB 1070, which requires law enforcement officials to question the immigration status of individuals during everyday police encounters. Police have to have "reasonable suspicion."

Under this law, people who transport, attempt to transport, conceal, harbor or attempt to conceal or harbor a person who enters the United States illegally is guilty of a Class I misdemeanor and could be punished by a fine up to $1,000. The law also gives any legal Arizona resident the ability to sue officials or state agencies that adopt practices that limit the enforcement of SB 1070 with a civil penalty between $1,000 and $5,000 per day that the policy exists. The court would reward costs and attorney fees to the winning side.
The law is slated to go into effect this summer.

President Barack Obama said that this bill "undermines basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe." But Obama wasn't the only one to speak his mind on Arizona's version of immigration reform. Reactions to the bill stretched all across the country.

Organizations from Arizona and politicians and activists in New York had something to say about the bill that has divided the country. The Arizona Senate Democratic Caucus isn't pleased with this bill and let their frustration show in a released statement immediately after it was signed.

"This legislation will criminalize all immigrants, infringe on free speech, encourage racial profiling and lead to enormous costs, into the millions, at a time Arizona cannot afford unfunded mandates," the statement read.

Arizona State Sen. Jorge Luis Garcia expounded upon the Caucus' statement. "Governor Brewer showed the world that she is more willing to put her own reelection bid ahead of vetoing a mean-spirited piece of legislation that targets racial minorities," said Garcia. "It is hypocritical of Brewer to have stood in front of two large Latino functions and say that she would do what she believes was right for Arizona."

"The Arizona immigration bill is an affront to the civil rights of all Americans and an attempt to legalize racial profiling," said the Rev. Al Sharpton. "As one who helped to make racial profiling a national issue and who has in the last year visited Arizona several times to rally against these draconian immigration policies, I am calling for a coalition of civil rights organizations to work with those in Arizona to resist and overturn this state law that violates the rights of Americans in that state."

New York State Sen. Eric Schneiderman also weighed in.

"Arizona's new law giving local police the power to profile and arrest people who cannot prove their immigration status on demand is as radical as it is irresponsible," Schneiderman said. "This is a wakeup call for the federal government to deliver comprehensive immigration reform that will undo this moral, economic and law enforcement disaster, and prevent another state from following Arizona's lead.

"There is no reason we cannot secure our borders and protect the civil rights of everyone living in this country," said Schneiderman.

The bill's signing brings up an important question that many have already asked: What does an immigrant look like? If the bill requires law enforcement to ask an individual for proof of legal status, what's the criterion for asking?

"I don't know," said Gov. Brewer during last Friday's news conference. Brewer, however, followed her statement of not knowing with an announcement that law enforcement would be trained on how to properly enforce this law. This goes back to the same question: What will they be trained in and what does an immigrant look like? As of this moment, no one knows.

The Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union wants President Obama to come out stronger against this bill and take the necessary action to make sure it isn't implemented.

"As the federal government sits on its hands, Arizona's anti-immigrant brushfires have turned into a firestorm," said Omar Jadwat, a staff attorney for the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project.

"We call on the administration to file a brief categorically opposing Arizona's employer sanctions law to demonstrate its commitment to stopping anti-immigrant laws that interfere with federal authority, wreak havoc on businesses and cause discrimination against Latinos."