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Immigration bill thrusts Arizona into national spotlight; Tucsonans react

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070, the Safe Neighborhoods; Immigration; Law Enforcement Act on April 23, opening the floodgates to torrents of criticism and discussion of state vs. federal immigration policy.

The debate has ranged from outrage about potential racial profiling, to legal opinions about the new law’s constitutionality, to Brewer’s assertion that the federal government hasn’t done enough to protect Arizona citizens from U.S.-Mexico border violence.

In a possible response to the extensive national publicity, Arizona House Bill 2162, approved by the legislature on April 29, changed the law’s qualification for police questioning of possible illegal immigrants from “reasonable suspicion” to a prohibition on questioning based on race, ethnicity or national origin.

Several Tucsonans shared their views of the controversial new law with the AJP.

“I think that ultimately we have to look at problems with the immigration system and that it needs to be fixed. That should come from Congress and the president,” says immigration attorney Mo Goldman.

“In my opinion, [SB 1070] is an unconstitutional law because of the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution. Article 6, clause 2 says the laws of the United States have supremacy over state laws,” says Goldman, adding that civil rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund will try to enjoin the state from enacting the law this summer, some 90 days after the end of the legislative session.

Changes in public policy have often followed disastrous events, notes Goldman. In 1996, three years after the first World Trade Center bombing, Congress passed a law restricting illegal immigrants from remaining with family members who were U.S. citizens, unless they could show “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to one of their qualifying relatives,” says Goldman.

“What good does that law serve at the end of the day but to break up families?” he asks. “One thing that makes this country so great is that we’ve unified families [through immigration]. That law destroyed that.”

The murder of Cochise County rancher Robert Krentz in March had “a significant role in moving [SB 1070] through the legislature,” says Goldman. But according to Monday’s Arizona Daily Star, Krentz’s murder wasn’t a random act of border violence, and a suspect of unknown nationality, who is believed to still be in the United States, is now the focus of the investigation.

“As far as I know, there were footprints leading back to the border. But there’s not a shred of evidence that an undocumented immigrant killed Krentz, who was very generous in helping immigrants,” says Goldman.

But Bruce Ash, a Republican national committeeman for Arizona, says “this bill was necessitated because the border is unsafe and the federal government hasn’t lived up to its obligation to protect the citizens of Arizona.”

Plus, he says, the new law holds public officials accountable “by having law enforcement [officers] protect the citizens of Arizona. Let’s say the [Tucson] City Council passed a resolution [deeming Tucson] a sanctuary city. SB 1070 would force these officials to uphold their oath of office and anti-illegal immigration statutes.”

Arizona cities that have previously passed sanctuary city ordinances or set up de facto procedures to do the same include Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler, Tucson, and Flagstaff, says Ash.

On Tuesday, Tucson City Council members voted 5-1 to challenge the State of Arizona over the legality of SB1070. Later in the day, the Flagstaff City Council voted unanimously to challenge the law.

Tucson Councilman Steve Kozachik voted against the lawsuit. According to the Arizona Daily Star, the law is clearly flawed and presents enforcement problems, Kozachil said, but we “need to de-escalate the conversation.” Filing a lawsuit runs counter to that goal, he said.

“We don’t have the will as a nation to uphold laws we’ve already passed,” says Ash, who forwarded a recent New York Times op-ed, “Why Arizona Drew the Line” by Kris W. Kobach, to the AJP. Kobach, an attorney and law professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, helped draft SB 1070. “Since 1940, it has been a federal crime for aliens to fail to keep such registration documents with them,” writes Kobach, who was also U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s chief advisor on immigration law and border security from 2001 to 2003, and is a former chair of the Kansas Republican Party.

“The Arizona law simply adds a state penalty to what already was a federal crime,” says Kobach. “Moreover, as anyone who has traveled abroad knows, other nations have similar documentation requirements.”

“In Arizona our citizens are exposed to murder, drugs, extortion, kidnapping, home invasions, lawlessness on public highways and more,” says Ash. “This law is not an anti-immigration law nor does it reflect an anti-immigration attitude in Arizona.”

Jill Rich disagrees. Rich, who calls herself an advocate for the homeless, started the refugee resettlement committee 18 years ago at Jewish Children’s & Family Services, and is co-chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council social action committee. “I think anytime you have someone who looks different [that person] would be suspect and fall under this new law,” she says. The bill also will have an impact on the homeless population, says Rich. “They’re out there on the streets. It’s one more reason for them to be stopped and be subject to racial profiling.”

Concern that the law would allow “an individual’s accent or skin color to precipitate an investigation into his/her legal status” also influenced Arizona rabbis to urge Brewer to veto the bill. Rabbi Thomas Louchheim of Tucson’s Congregation Or Chadash was one of the seven rabbis who signed a letter to the governor, stating that the bill was “an affront to American values of justice and our historic status as a nation of immigrants.”

While the Federation’s JCRC hasn’t yet taken a position on the law, current JCRC chair Jonathan Rothschild spoke to the AJP as a community activist and local attorney. “My first concern is about the constitutionality of the law,” he says. “What made this country different and great is the Bill of Rights. I’m deeply concerned when people pass laws that don’t pay enough attention to it.”

From a Jewish perspective, says Rothschild, Leviticus 24:22 tells us, “You shall have one law for the stranger and the citizen alike.” Historically, he adds, “Jews have long suffered from being treated as outsiders. We as a community need to be particularly concerned that treatment not be repeated.”

“For this I left South Africa!” says Karen Faitelson, former president of both the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona and Tucson Hebrew Academy. Faitelson’s family emigrated from apartheid South Africa in 1979; she followed in 1983.

“It’s horrific to feel that we live in a racist state,” she says. “I don’t want to see Arizona become a bastion of racism. I left South Africa for political ideology.”

Arizona’s SB 1070 has also revived political interest in federal immigration policy. Arizona Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain, both Republicans, recently introduced a 10-point plan to secure state borders, says Linda White, secretary of the Arizona Republican Party.

White, who’s Jewish, contends that the new Arizona law mirrors federal law already on the books. The Southern Arizona coordinator of Brewer’s gubernatorial campaign, White says, “As far as I know, 70 percent of the public is in favor of this law. Like my friends back east, I didn’t realize the impact illegal immigration has on our economy, services and the drain on our resources until I moved here from New York City 14 years ago.”

“Immigration makes this country hum,” says White. “Doing it legally is the way to go.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) recently called SB 1070 “divisive,” but she doesn’t agree with U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva’s (D-Ariz.) call for an economic boycott of the state as a wake-up call to the Republican-dominated state legislature. Giffords has endorsed a bipartisan call for stronger border security, urging President Obama “to deploy National Guard troops to the increasingly troubled U.S.-Mexico border.”

Josh Protas, an Arizona native who is currently director of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs Washington office, witnessed the ongoing dilemma around border security when he was director of Tucson’s JCRC (see “Religious leaders see grim scene at the border,” AJP, Sept. 9, 2005,http://jewishtucson.org/page aspx?id=99195).

“The new law is deeply disturbing,” says Protas. “I’m concerned with the possibility of widespread racial profiling. This is also an embarrassment for the state. People will think twice about having conferences in Arizona, relocating businesses to the state, and there are also consequences for public safety. People will be less likely to report crimes, [fearing] that they may be called into question because of the color of their skin.

“The new law will reduce trust among the Latino population, who will be required to carry identification papers to prove they’re here legally,” he says, adding, “You can’t make the police into the border patrol.

“I also understand the frustrations of Arizonans who have borne the brunt of [seeing] deaths in the desert and smuggling in our own backyard. The federal government,” asserts Protas, “must address more effective border enforcement, humane treatment, and in my view, provide a guest worker program and legal path to citizenship.”

To push for civil rights, civil liberties and strive for a more humane immigration agenda, he says, JCPA and other members of “We Were Strangers, Too: the Jewish Campaign for Immigration Reform,” sent a letter to the U.S. Justice Department condemning the Arizona law.

“The bottom line,” says Protas, “is that the new law doesn’t do anything to secure the border.”