For two years, we have been living with the consequences of state level racial profiling laws that violate our basic human and civil rights. These laws — instigated by Arizona’s SB 1070 — were crafted by reckless politicians with one purpose: to dilute the increasing presence and political strength of immigrants and ethnic minorities.
But these mean-spirited laws that threaten the rights of citizens and immigrants, will not be the last word. It is up to us to mobilize voters so that we have the final say.
That may seem like a daring statement, since the U.S. Supreme Court will decide if the precedent-setting Arizona law is unconstitutional.
SEIU joined civil rights groups and the federal government in lawsuits challenging SB 1070 because it violates the Constitution. States may have some good ideas about some issues, but only the federal government has the right to set immigration law. Arizona was out of bounds when it tried to expand its immigration authority. Under the Constitution, states cannot pre-empt federal authority on national immigration policy and create their own patchwork of laws, just like they cannot print their own currency, develop separate national security plans or sign their own treaties with foreign governments.
Arizona’s “show me your papers” law opened the door to other heavy-handed enforcement laws in Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana, Utah and Alabama, which created a new set of issues not included in the current Supreme Court case.
Though pandering politicians claimed they were merely “enforcing our laws,” these measures deter the work of local prosecutors and law enforcement officers because they destroy community policing and erode the ability to investigate violent crimes. That is the opinion of two of the last three state Attorneys General from Arizona – one Democrat and one Republican – along with 42 additional former Attorneys General from 27 states and the District of Columbia who filed a brief with the Supreme Court against SB 1070.
As the Supreme Court weighs the legal arguments, we must ask how a foolhardy law that legitimizes racial profiling, discrimination and harassment reached the court. Why do conservatives find it acceptable to interrogate and detain people just because of the way they look or speak?
Simply, laws are advanced by politicians who do not share our values. We also are mindful of the fact that laws are interpreted by Justices who are politically appointed, and that the election of an anti-immigrant president or U.S. Senate majority could lead to less fair-minded judges in cases affecting our communities.
So, we must register to vote and elect leaders who believe that America was founded on the principle that all men and women are created equal, no matter what we look like or where we come from. Because when we do, we can make a difference.
Last year, Latinos helped throw Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce – SB 1070’s sponsor – out of office. Instead of focusing on the economy, Pearce wasted the state’s reputation on a law that placed families under siege because of the way they looked; forced Americans to carry citizenship papers at all times; and subjected Latinos, African-Americans, Asians and others to harassment whenever they went out in public.
This bad law is now in the hands of the court. But the futures of bad politicians are in our hands. With our votes, we will say, “This is not what America is about. Not in my America.”
Eliseo Medina is International Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU.
[Photo by jasleen_kaur]