In April 2010, the state of Arizona enacted a piece of legislation that incited a firestorm of controversy that extended far beyond the borders of the state itself.
Popularly known as SB 1070, this law was hailed by supporters as an important step towards addressing concerns over Arizona’s “porous borders,” while it was challenged by opponents as legalizing the racist profiling of immigrants.
Supporters of SB 1070 argue that this law does not authorize racial profiling, noting that there is a specific stipulation against the use of race or ethnic origin in its enforcement.
However, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) provides some revealing background on Kris Kobach, the lawyer who helped to author SB 1070, and Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce, the primary sponsor of the law.
According to SPLC, Kobach is affiliated with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an organization that not only is connected with White nationalists but also has “accepted $1.2 million from the Pioneer Fund, a racist foundation that was set up by Nazi sympathizers to fund studies of eugenics.”
Similarly, Pearce has been seen at rallies supporting J.T. Ready, a member of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, and he has distributed email with an article from the National Alliance, another neo-Nazi organization.
Interestingly, public opinion polls show that a majority of the American people support Arizona’s law. A national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in May 2010 revealed that 59 percent of respondents favored SB 1070 in general, with even higher percentages favoring specific provisions such as allowing police to stop individuals thought to be illegal aliens.
Moreover, cities across the US in Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Texas have proposed ordinances banning the hiring of or renting of property to illegal aliens.
Apparently, American nationalism and racist xenophobia are on the march.
The question thus arises: what are the implications of the Arizona law for the state of Washington? Could Washington adopt its own version of SB 1070? If so, what would be the effects of such a law?
In short, can it happen here?
John Diamond, communications director for Senator Maria Cantwell, notes that the group, Respect Washington, is leading a signature-gathering effort to put Initiative 1056 on the November ballot. If passed, this initiative would deny driver’s licenses and social services to illegal immigrants; require employers to use the federal E-Verify system to identify them; and mandate that all persons charged with a felony or DUI be checked for immigration status.
Regarding SB 1070, Diamond suggests that Cantwell is opposed to Arizona’s law and has concerns about its constitutionality like the infringement of First Amendment free speech rights of day laborers and the “violation of the prohibition on unreasonable seizures under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.”
In a similar vein, Governor Christine Gregoire has stated that she believes SB 1070 to be misguided and wrong for Washington.
And, according to Washington state representatives Sharon Tomiko Santos and Bob Hasegawa, it is unlikely that Washington would adopt an Arizona-style law.
Both lawmakers are opposed to such legislation, and Santos suggests there are factors that would preclude Washington enacting such a law like the state’s reliance on foreign trade; its significant immigrant and refugee population; and its tradition of politicians who are the children of immigrants and advocates for civil rights.
While the passage of a SB 1070-style law in Washington appears unlikely at present, the impact on Asian Pacific Islanders in the state would probably be significant. Santos proposes that even legal API citizens and residents could be affected by racial profiling, particularly in the northern counties with its border traffic from Canada.
Indeed, Hasegawa offers a cautionary warning that such a law would impact “all communities of color and exacerbate problems of racial profiling, stereotyping, and institutional racism. Even worse, it would violate and break down Constitutional protections of just cause, due process, freedoms of speech and assembly, and other ‘inalienable rights.’”
All in all, Arizona’s passage of SB 1070 has profound political, legal, and social ramifications, and its impact will be manifest in the courts, law enforcement, government, and, most importantly, the lives of millions of immigrants across the USA—including here in Washington.