Posted by on August 02, 2013 in Blog

By Matt Haugen
Summer 2013 Intern

Progress towards comprehensive immigration reform seems increasingly unlikely as of late. With Republicans choosing to not take up debate on the House floor of approved Senate legislation, they’ll likely attempt to pass through piecemeal legislation in order to get the increased enforcement they desire without a clear pathway to citizenship needed by millions of immigrants. As part of this approach, Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (R-SC) SAFE Act is raising eyebrows. The bill has passed committee and is pending on the House floor, but has civil rights and liberties groups outraged for its semblance to draconian anti-immigration legislation passed in Arizona.

Immigration is being largely framed not as an American issue, but as a Latino issue. Reform, though, is more than just a Latino issue and much of what is being considered now will have far-reaching consequences for all minority populations in the US. Current legislation, like the SAFE Act would institutionalize discriminatory practices already installed and controversial in Arizona. In an effort to draw attention to the impact of such legislation, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) hosted a panel on Capitol Hill highlighting stories from Arizonans recently persecuted by state-mandated discrimination.

The panel consisted of testimony from three individuals profiled and persecuted under Arizona’s SB 1070. Signed into law back in 2010, SB 1070 shows just how wrong immigration reform can go and the implications of such misguided legislation. It not only allows for, but mandates, that police officers request immigration papers of those they suspect of being undocumented immigrants. For the three panelists, police raids on their workplace and an inability to prove legal residence meant detention in one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s sordid prisons. Arpaio is Maricopa County’s notorious sheriff who often finds himself at the center of controversy and racial tension in Arizona. The panelists’ testimony recounted stories of rotting rations, unhygienic conditions, and untreated medical needs. As a parting gift, they’d been branded felons under Arizona’s law, their only crime: working in the US as an undocumented immigrant. What’s more repulsive, one of the panelists has been in the US since she was three—an innocent DREAMer. Following the testimony, an organizer from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)—a day laborer advocacy group—said that this legislation chips away at 4th and 14th amendment protections. Furthermore, NDLON recorded instances where children who were brought to this country through no fault of their own and have received federal permission to stay in the country and work under the President’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) had been detained because Arizona law also restricts them from receiving a driver’s license, thereby denying them documentation which would have proved their legality. Legislation like SB 1070 isn’t just the government sponsoring discriminatory enforcement: it’s the state mandating it.

Now imagine federal law deregulating immigration enforcement, as the SAFE Act would, and Arizona law becoming commonplace. Enforcement previously entrusted to ICE agents would become a shared responsibility with local law enforcement. Immigration policy would no longer be federally dictated, but would vary by state. With recent controversies like the NYPD’s profiling of Muslim communities, can we trust local law enforcement to police immigration policies objectively and to legislate fairly? The House’s piecemeal approach to reform means that crazier enforcement legislation is likely to be taken up without the compromise of a pathway to citizenship, but one need not look further than Arizona to see how discriminatory policies fail to address the true nature of reform.

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