Guest column: UA, regents must take clear stance against Arizona's SB 1070
Last June the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated large portions of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070. Yet the one provision allowed to stand is also the most notorious: Section 2(b), which mandates that local law enforcement detain anybody they have “reasonable suspicion” may be “unlawfully present” in the United States, went into full effect on Sept. 18 of this year.
In the Justice Department’s oral arguments against SB 1070, conspicuously absent was any mention of the likelihood of widespread, unconstitutional racial profiling if Section 2(b) were implemented. This absence was so conspicuous that it prompted the following exchange:
Chief Justice John Roberts: Before you get into what the case is about, I’d like to clear up at the outset what it’s not about. No part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling, does it? I saw none of that in your brief.
DOJ: Where — that’s correct, Mr. Chief Justice.
Roberts: OK. So this is not a case about ethnic profiling.
DOJ: We’re not making any allegation about racial or ethnic profiling in the case.
The Justice Department’s silence on this issue is telling. As Tucson Police Chief Robert Villasenor wrote in an affidavit to the court, law enforcement officers are trained to police “criminal actions, which can be observed through sight or other tangible means. My officers are not trained in the concept of ‘reasonable suspicion’ with respect to determining a person’s immigration status.”
Thus, concluded Villasenor, “I believe SB 1070 will force police officers to consider race and ethnicity to enforce the law.”
If the Justice Department were to acknowledge this unconstitutional danger, it would also be forced to acknowledge the widespread problems with federal programs like Immigration and Nationality Act section 287(g) and Secure Communities — in many ways the models for SB 1070.
Organizations as diverse as the American Civil Liberties Union and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops claim to have found that the expansion of these programs across the United States has led to rampant abuses, discrimination and unwarranted police harassment against immigrants and Latinos.
Describing the sum effect, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote: “like African Americans during the height of Jim Crow, many Latinos … live in constant fear of being unfairly targeted by the police as they go about their daily lives.”
This kind of fear is a daily reality for thousands of Tucsonans. Studies have found that SB 1070 has led to declines in revenue of up to 60 percent for some Latino-owned businesses. As some fled the state, others have encountered severe restrictions in everyday activities, such as taking kids to school, attending medical appointments or reporting criminal activity to the police.
The UA Southwest Institute for Research on Women found that SB 1070 resulted in “young adults without their primary caregivers, early teen marriages, stress-related health issues and declines in high school attendance and performance.”
But in Tucson, cooperation between local police and federal immigration authorities (like the U.S. Border Patrol) is nothing new. Under a pre-SB 1070 policy called “police discretion,” both Tucson Police Department and University of Arizona Police Department officers were allowed to contact federal officials, often as they deemed fit.
As UAPD public information officer Sergeant Juan Alvarez described to me in a recent conversation: “In the past, we did have policies in place that were less than we have now, but largely the same. SB 1070 is a little more strict.”
Targets of UAPD immigration enforcement included “suspects, witnesses, victims, whatever the case may be.” According to Alvarez, SB 1070 has actually tightened the circumstances under which federal authorities are now contacted; however, Alvarez would not immediately release statistics on how — and how often — UAPD is currently enforcing Section 2(b).
It is likely that much of this enforcement action occurs off-campus, targeting non-student community residents. Yet for a campus that is comprised of 19.5 percent Latinos and 5.4 percent international students, this should be of little comfort.
Soon after SB 1070 was passed, Arizona State University president Michael Crow wrote: “In my own view, the law as written will … make Arizona seemingly and actually unfriendly to legal residents, potential residents and international visitors.” Calling the law “egregious,” Crow added “I have spoken with numerous students, faculty and staff at Arizona State University who have shared with me their concerns about the range of interpretations that this poorly conceived and realized legislation could have among a highly diverse community like ours.”
Neither the Arizona Board of Regents, nor the administration of the UA, has ever offered such a clear and unambiguous condemnation of the law.
Now that the 2012 elections are done and immigration reform is back on the national legislative agenda, Congress should act quickly to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would end federal policies like 287(g) and Secure Communities and repudiate state-level policies like SB 1070.
In the meantime, we should take a step back and consider: During the era of civil rights struggle, the federal government, through the Department of Justice, came down decisively on the side of justice, as state governments across much of the country tried to maintain Jim Crow and other forms of racial apartheid.
When it comes to immigration enforcement, the Justice Department has neglected its historic mandate to defend civil rights and equal protection. In its place, local government — including this university — must step up to the plate. UAPD should, to the greatest extent possible, limit its enforcement of Section 2(b) and its cooperation with federal immigration authorities. And the Arizona Board of Regents should take a principled stand and insist that it does so.
— Geoffrey Boyce is a PhD student in the School of Geography and Development. His research is focused on the social, cultural and economic impacts of U.S. immigration policy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .