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Academics condemn Arizona immigration law

To Gov. Brewer, the state Legislature, and the people of Arizona:

Published: Jun 14, 2010 7:00 am

"We wish to express our deep concern with and unequivocal condemnation of Senate Bill 1070, which you signed into law April 23. By making it a state crime to be in Arizona without federal authorization, and making it a punishable offense to support someone without the appropriate documents, SB 1070 criminalizes countless decent human beings who live, work, pay taxes, and raise families in Arizona. The enforcement of such a constitutionally problematic law threatens everyone’s civil rights in the process, and undermines the potential for fostering an environment based on peace and social justice. We unanimously denounce this law and strenuously urge that you rescind it in the name of compassion and human dignity.

The decision to join together in issuing the open letter below represents an unprecedented and historical moment of collaboration. As academics and professionals concerned about social and environmental justice, human rights, and due process, we add our collective voices to those of many others from across the country calling for the immediate rescission of SB 1070 (and, as amended, HB 2162) and HB 2281 in the name of equity, compassion, integrity, constitutionality, and sound public policy.

We are all non-partisan professional organizations of scholars, educators, and practitioners with a collective membership of more than 10,000 people committed to and knowledgeable about a wide range of social justice and environmental issues, including some of the nation’s most knowledgeable professionals on the subjects of immigration and our legal and political systems. While immigration reform in the United States may be overdue, we also know that using this to justify state laws that usurp federal authority over immigration will create many more legal and social problems than it resolves.

The combined effect of SB 1070 with the prohibition on ethnic studies contained in HB 2281 creates an atmosphere of legislated intolerance and racialized politicking that is simply untenable, unwise and unjust. The simple fact that SB 1070 had to be amended, under pressure following its passage, by HB 2162 (which sought to qualify the conditions for officer contact) demonstrates quite clearly the inherently flawed and potentially racist implications of this piece of legislation. The purported “remedy” of requiring a “stop” before officers can inquire further about legal status based on a “reasonable suspicion” is equally expansive in its application, and thus equally problematic. These alterations, again adopted in haste following public pressure, will not provide sufficient protection against racial profiling.

Police officers are not immigration officers. Putting them in the position of enforcing federal immigration law will destroy the trust between police officers and communities so essential for effective law enforcement. It will also lead to unwarranted and prolonged detention of citizens and legal residents, increasing the likelihood of civil rights litigation against police departments, cities and towns, and potentially damaging family units across the state.

Despite language ostensibly prohibiting racial profiling, this will be the de facto reality of the law’s implementation. Physical appearance, particularly being of Hispanic background, will unavoidably remain the primary factor determining whether someone is or is not asked to prove her or his citizenship or residency status. For all these reasons, many law enforcement leaders across the country, as well as in Arizona, oppose this law. It would be wise to heed the objections of the law enforcement officers who are now faced with enforcing this unjust law.

For some, the stated intent of SB 1070 is to cleanse Arizona of its undocumented immigrants and their families, among them children and other relatives born in the United States. Legislative supporters of this law have repeatedly and proudly described this as part of a strategy to make life so unbearable for undocumented residents and their families that they will leave the state. Any law whose goal is to drive an ethnic population to leave its place of residence is a crime against humanity under current international law. The law will also separate cohesive family units and lead to increased marginalization among communities facing grave challenges. This bill risks making Arizona a pariah state on the national and international stages.

Whatever the intent, at minimum this law will create a climate of fear so intense as to make low-wage workers even more vulnerable, and therefore much easier to exploit by unscrupulous employers. Denying immigrant workers protections or otherwise making them more vulnerable does not stop them from coming. Rather, it simply drives them further underground and makes them more exploitable.

The climate of fear and hostility that this law will create is antithetical to the aims of promoting a more just and peaceful world. By institutionalizing chauvinism and magnifying differences of race and ethnicity, SB 1070 promises to enlarge the gulf between diverse communities and pit groups against one another, rather than encouraging people to work together to find mutually beneficial solutions to challenging issues. Sadly, the net effect of SB 1070 will be precisely what is sought to be prohibited under HB 2281 – it will in practice and principle serve to “promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group.”

Opposition to this law has been rapid and strong, and is likely to become even stronger, as more and more groups and individuals boycott the state of Arizona and businesses based in Arizona. We are aware as well of the ostensible support in the state for the law, and therefore recognize the political pressures that led to passage of this law.

But widespread support for a law does not make it just; not long ago the majority of Southerners supported segregation laws. As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a Birmingham jail: “An unjust law is no law at all. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” It is in instances like these that strong moral leadership is needed, and we are appealing to the governor, state legislators, and all concerned Arizonans to provide it.

Please choose to be on the right side of history and work to overturn this patently unjust law. We thank you for your time and attention in this important matter."

– The Consortium of Professional and Academic Associations, including the following:
American Studies Association (ASA)
Association of Asian American Studies (AAAS)
Chicano/Latino Faculty and Staff Association, ASU (CLFSA)
Justice Studies Association (JSA)
Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS)
National Association for Chicano and Chicana Studies (NACCS)
Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA)
Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA)
Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR)
Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS)
Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA)
Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP)
Sociologists Without Borders (Sociologos Sin Fronteras) (SSF)

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