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SB 1070 Casts Shadow on Arizona’s New Anti-Immigrant Bills

New America Media, News Report, Valeria Fernández, Posted: Mar 21, 2011

PHOENIX – The economic shadow cast by one of Arizona’s toughest anti-immigrant laws was crucial in the defeat of five new measures aimed at undocumented immigrants.

It was also a tipping point for the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. For the past eight years, Arizona Republicans have supported an avalanche of bills cracking down on illegal immigration. But last Thursday, at least 10 of the 21 Republicans in the state legislature sided with opponents from the business community and cast “no” votes that were essential to the bills’ defeat.

The vote was a victory for civil rights groups in Arizona that launched a national boycott against the state after the passage last April of SB 1070, a law that made it a state crime to be undocumented.

Republican Senate President Russell Pearce, the force behind the bills, now faces a possible recall after sponsoring SB 1070. Pearce wasn’t available for an interview, but has vowed to push for these bills and, if necessary, take them to the voters as a referendum.

The measures sought to prompt a Supreme Court challenge to the 14th Amendment that grants automatic citizenship to children born of undocumented parents in the United States. One bill would have required hospitals to report undocumented patients to local law enforcement; another instructed schools to turn in students who couldn’t prove legal residency.

Most of the Republicans who voted against the legislation had been past supporters of SB 1070. But the economic fallout from that law, in part due to successful boycott organizing efforts, caused them to move in a different direction.

“They’ve been hit in the pocketbook and see the hurt on Arizona’s state economy,” said Roberto Reveles, former president of Somos America and an organizing member of a boycott committee that targeted state businesses in direct action against SB 1070.

The bills might resurface today, the deadline to file a special motion to be re-introduced in the Senate, or they could be presented in the coming weeks on the floor of the House of Representatives.

But the tone of the debate on SB 1070 last year was quite different.

The business lobby was mostly silent then. And the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, a key force in the defeat of last week’s bills, was neutral on SB 1070 in the past.

This time, some 60 state businesses wrote an open letter to Sen. Pearce, raising concerns about the economic impact and damage to the state’s image, caused by previous anti-immigrant legislation in the state.

The letter read, “Last year, boycotts were called against our state’s business community, adversely impacting our already-struggling economy and costing us jobs. Arizona-based businesses saw contracts cancelled or were turned away from bidding. Sales outside of the state declined … It is an undeniable fact that each of our companies and our employees were impacted by the boycotts and the coincident negative image.”

Among those who signed the letter were executives from Wells Fargo Bank, PetSmart, Inc., U.S. Airways and Hensley Beverage Company, the distributor of Budweiser Beer. The latter is partially owned by Cindy McCain, wife of Republican Sen. John McCain, and was a target for boycott organizers in protest of the senator’s harsh stance on illegal immigration.

Shortly after a boycott was announced last April, convention bookings went down in the state, with organizations citing SB 1070 as one of the reasons for their cancellations. Early on, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer decided to invest $250,000 in the tourism industry to try to restore the state’s image.

Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, said that depending on the study, state tourism has lost somewhere between $15 million and $150 million.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to a very sober decision: We are going to either be on the side of jobs, or immigration measures that don’t do anything to secure our border and would face very serious legal challenges,” said Hamer.

Nan Stockholm Walden and Dick Walden, owners of Green Valley Pecan Company – one of the largest pecan growers in the world, based in Sahuarita, Ariz. – were vocal in their opposition to SB 1070 and other anti-immigrant legislation, saying their business image was impacted by the tough laws.

“Absolutely it hurts us. It hurts the image of America,” said Stockholm Walden, whose company has more than 100 trading partners all over the world.

Stockholm Walden said she was positive that the business community in Arizona was finally taking a stand against anti-immigration measures.

“I think there has been a lot of fear generated by a very vindictive leadership in our state that has promised to punish people, either legislators or businesses that speak out,” she said. “We cannot be silent and complacent and let an extreme minority dictate the way of our state and nation. We are convinced they don’t represent the majority of Americans.”

Several Republicans broke party lines early in the session to oppose last week’s legislation.

Republican Sen. Rich Crandall, who supported SB 1070, argued against the five bills, citing a potential setback to the state’s tourism industry. Republican Senator Adam Driggs, who is an attorney, argued against the constitutionality of most of the measures, saying they wouldn’t survive a challenge in court.

“These immigration bills are a distraction,” said Republican Sen. John McComish. “They could be a detriment to the growth of our economy, and they are something people don’t want us to be focused on. It’s time for us to take a timeout on immigration.”

Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo said Republicans are starting to see the consequences of listening to Pearce. Gallardo is hopeful that this could be a new beginning for bipartisan cooperation, but doesn’t underestimate the influence of the president of the senate.

“Do we want another repeat of SB 1070? Do we want another boycott against Arizona when we are trying hard to rebuild the jobs and the economy? At the end of the day, those Republicans said ‘no,’” Gallardo said.

But the fallout of SB 1070 hasn’t just created a political shift among business leaders and Republicans in Arizona. It has also reinforced the success of a new direction for pro-immigrant and Latino organizers, who have shifted their strategy to that of the pocketbook.

Organizing in Arizona “has grown in sophistication,” said Reveles. “It has matured and it has cranked up in our response to match the level of hateful legislation being pushed in the legislature.”

Raquel Terán, an organizer from the grassroots group, Promise Arizona, that protested the anti-immigrant laws at the State Capitol, said immigrant rights’ organizing had come a long way since the passage SB 1070.

“People have become more a part of the decision-making process, sharing their stories with the legislators, making calls, building relationships with both Republicans and Democrats,” said Terán.

Daniel Ortega, a civil rights attorney and local pro-immigrant activist, cautioned that there was no single factor that could claim victory for the defeat of the bills. The shift that has taken place in Arizona politics, he said, is broader than a single organization or community.

“The shift has come from the fact that we don’t want divided communities. We want to work together and we don’t want a bad image for Arizona,” said Ortega.

Arizona Law is Product of Anti-Immigrant Hysteria

Immigrant bashing, like baseball, has become a favorite American pastime. The recent draconian, anti-immigrant law in Arizona only adds credence to this reality.

This pernicious law not only targets undocumented immigrants in this desert state, but also punishes Latinos in general, both legal residents and citizens. Apart from criminalizing undocumented immigrants with misdemeanor and felony charges, not to mention imposing monetary fines and imprisonment for deportation purposes, the law allows for the police and other authorities to stop and interrogate individuals “suspected” of lacking legal documents in this country.

In other words, the law, if upheld on constitutional grounds, allows for the police to single out individuals of Mexican descent, along with other Latinos, and interrogate them due to the color of their skin. Apart from skin color, what will prevent the police from randomly questioning the legality of brown-skinned individuals simply for speaking Spanish in public?

Apart from skin color and language, what about clothing? Will the police question individuals for wearing a soccer jersey from the Major Soccer League or El Tricolor, the Mexican national team? This seems to fall under “reasonable suspicion” since “everyone knows” that immigrants love soccer. Don’t they?

This very broad concept of “reasonable suspicion” provides the police and others with too much power to make subjective judgments against individuals based on phenotype, linguistic, and clothing characteristics. Where are the national Republican leaders, who argue vehemently against government intrusion on individual rights when we need them? Or do individual rights only apply for Americans of European descent?

This statewide law — which undermines federal jurisdiction of immigration regulation, commonly enforced by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — inevitably leads to racial profiling. We’ve witnessed racial profiling against Arab Americans after 9/11, and now we see it in Arizona against Latinos. It seems like racial profiling only occurs against racial minorities. If not, we would have seen it against whites after Timothy McVeigh, a young white male, blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City. Whites, after all, also represent a racial group.

Essentially, this law represents a violation of civic rights against American-born Latinos and permanent residents. Speaking of permanent residents, under this law, any individual who fails to carry his or her legal document, proving their status in this country, will be subject to harsh consequences, such as financial fines and imprisonment. This type of policy goes back to the dark days of Nazi Germany.

This anti-immigrant hysteria goes beyond Arizona’s borders. Conservative politicians, talk-show hosts and average Americans frequently scapegoat undocumented immigrants for this country’s financial and social ills. For instance, many Americans commonly argue that undocumented immigrants represent a threat to the American way of life by taking jobs away from citizens, depreciating wages, depleting social services and causing financial havoc. While these simplistic arguments make for good sound bites on mainstream television, radio, and print media outlets, whereby fueling anti-immigrant sentiments and laws throughout the country, they are rarely substantiated with hard facts.

It’s dumbfounding to hear these self-righteous arguments especially when Americans, both employers and consumers alike, benefit from undocumented immigrants and their willingness to perform jobs that most Americans reject due to meager wages, low social status and hazardous work conditions. For example, one doesn’t see long lines of unemployed Americans applying for jobs as farm workers, performing back-breaking tasks such as picking grapes, lettuce or tomatoes. Nor do we see hordes of unemployed Americans in front of The Home Depot and other stores, chasing down eager employers/homeowners in search of temporary cheap labor.

In addition, the notion that undocumented workers lower wages represents another falsehood. Immigrants don’t control wages; employers do. No rational worker argues for lower wages and no benefits. Lower wages in the market place result from employer greed and the bottom line. For instance, by lowering operating costs, such as wages, employers may increase their profit margins.

Moreover, by paying undocumented immigrants lower wages, employers can afford to sell their products and services at lower costs to the public, whereby American consumers ultimately benefit by saving money. Thus, instead of appreciating immigrants when purchasing a garden salad, going to the dry cleaners, getting their homes remodeled and lawns mowed, hiring a nanny or domestic cleaner at affordable prices, many Americans blame these honest, hard-working individuals for everything that goes wrong in America.

This hypocrisy must come to an end! Americans who blame undocumented workers — the same workers who make their lives more comfortable and affordable — need to appreciate the hard work and sacrifice that immigrants go through on a daily basis in this country. This goes for all of those in Arizona who support this draconian law and federal authorities, under the Obama administration, who conduct daily raids against human beings who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity instead of like pariahs.