How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

A tentative celebration for SB 1070 opponents

Opponents of SB 1070 in Arizona

Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Opponents of SB 1070 rally outside the Arizona state capitol on Wednesday, July 28, 2010.

A crowd of about 200 opponents of Arizona's anti-illegal immigration law has been braving the afternoon heat outside the state capitol in Phoenix, gathered to celebrate a federal judge's decision this morning to block some of the more controversial components of the law, which would have empowered local police to check for immigration status.

The mood was celebratory, but only tentatively so. "The law is not completely gone," said Marta Delgado, a 45-year-old Phoenix hairdresser and legal resident. "The battle is just beginning."

The ruling allows some sections of the law to go forward, and a state appeal is planned. A series of rallies and other events are planned for tomorrow.


Judge rules on SB 1070, blocks most controversial parts of law

Quite literally while I was in mid-air en route to Arizona, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton in Phoenix issued a ruling on SB 1070. Some aspects of the law can go into effect, but she has issued a preliminary injunction against its more controversial sections, which empowered local officers to check individuals' immigration status while conducting other law enforcement, and required immigrants to carry documents. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer said the state will likely appeal the ruling. More to come.


By the time we get to Phoenix


Photo by Al_HikesAZ/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The city as seen from the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

The Grand Canyon State will be counting down to the Thursday implementation of the controversial anti-illegal immigration law known as SB 1070, which in recent months has put the immigration debate back in the national spotlight. Or not, depending on how a federal judge rules on legal challenges to the measure between now and then. Whatever the decision is, 89.3 KPCC will be there to report the story as it unfolds. AirTalk host Larry Mantle will be broadcasting live from Phoenix on Thursday. KPCC reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez will be there providing live updates, and I'll be there posting updates on Multi-American. See you there. Now it's time to hit the road.


Q&A: A fifth-generation ex-Minuteman on SB 1070

Al Garza is the former executive director and vice-president of the Arizona-based Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. The group disbanded in March. Garza now heads Patriot's Coalition, a conservative activist group with an anti-illegal immigration component. He lives in Huachuca City, Ariz., about 65 miles southeast of Tucson.

M-A: You’re a fifth-generation American of Mexican descent, born in Texas. Why are you in favor of SB 1070?

Garza: It’s simple. We already have the existing federal law that has been in existence for I don’t know how many decades now. All we are doing is mirroring the law, since the government is refusing to enforce any law that has to do with illegal immigration, be it securing the borders, be it employers. We think that these people are untouchable. It just goes on and on.

M-A: Latinos who are opposed to SB 1070 say one of their biggest concerns is that the law, which enables local police to check for immigration status, could lead to racial profiling. What do you think?

Garza: I think it’s nonsense. I have never been profiled. I have lived here all my life. So did my father, and my grandfather and his father. I have never been pulled over by anyone just because of the color of my skin. I am very dark. I consider myself chocolate-colored. I have never been pulled over for my color. SB 1070 has nothing to do with racial profiling. It is interesting to me that people who have some connection to illegal immigrants, and illegal immigrants themselves, are the only ones that have fear of SB 1070.

I have put it to the test. I have stood out there by a gas station, picked up a bunch of brown friends and put on caps and dirty clothes. The cops would come by, and not a thing. I did this last year.

M-A: Have you faced criticism from other Latinos for your support of SB 1070?

Garza: Sure. They call me a traitor. My challenge has always been, “A traitor to whom?" I’m not from Mexico, I’m from the United States. I am an American that just happens to be of Hispanic origin. I don’t find that to be a challenge at all. This is about the rule of law, and enforcing the rule of law and border security. People say, “Isn’t in it inhuman, when these people walk through the desert for a better life?” Why doesn’t Mexico take care of its people?

M-A: What sort of action would you like to see from the federal government?

Garza: It’s really easy. I would like for the border to be secure. I don’t care how they do it. If it calls for the military, that is what it takes. We need to secure the border. We need to enforce immigration laws. We have got to disconnect ourselves from the fact that they are here and we have to provide for them. We don’t have to do anything. We secure the border, and we hold employers accountable for their actions. Take away all the public services. Mexico is not providing for them. We give them what Mexico is unwilling to do for its own people.

M-A: Would you say that SB 1070 has re-energized the anti-illegal immigration activist movement?

Garza: It has probably given us a little more teeth, because we know that we not only make sense, but that we brought up the awareness.


Q&A: Kevin R. Johnson of UC Davis on SB 1070


Photo courtesy of UC Davis School of Law

Kevin R. Johnson

A ruling is expected very soon on challenges to Arizona's SB 1070 anti-illegal immigration law, including a federal government lawsuit that seeks to block the measure on constitutional grounds. Kevin R. Johnson is dean and a professor of public interest law and Chicana/o studies at the University of California Davis School of Law, and an editor of the ImmigrationProf Blog. In opinion pieces published in the Sacramento Bee and the Washington Post, Johnson has written that the Arizona law may not pass constitutional muster - and, surprisingly, that racial profiling is technically legal, according to a long-ago Supreme Court decision. Here's Johnson's take:
M-A: Can SB 1070 hold up in court against the federal preemption challenge?

Johnson: The federal preemption argument, which is the centerpiece of the U.S. government’s lawsuit in United States v. Arizona, is a powerful argument and, in my estimation, has a good likelihood of prevailing. A federal court relied on the preemption argument to strike down California’s Proposition 187, which voters passed overwhelmingly in 1994 and, among other things, would have required public officers to report suspected undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.

M-A: The law was written to closely mirror federal immigration law, and its architects believe that provides a safeguard against preemption. What’s your take on this?

Johnson: Despite the insistence of its supporters, Arizona SB 1070 does not exactly mirror federal law. First, it criminalizes conduct not criminalized by federal law, such as the mere status of being undocumented and the solicitation of work in public places. Second, and perhaps more importantly, SB 1070 delegates enforcement authority for the federal immigration laws to state and local law enforcement officers, which is very narrowly circumscribed by federal law. Put colloquially, the state wants to take the federal law into its own hands and enforce the law as it sees fit, not how the federal government wants to.

M-A: Generally speaking, what would be the biggest concerns if the law is implemented?

Johnson: The most-voiced concern is that state and local law enforcement officers will engage in racial profiling of Latinos in Arizona, citizens and noncitizens alike. The fear is especially real given the claims of civil rights abuses, which the U.S. Department of Justice is currently investigating, by, among others, the Maricopa County Sherriff’s office headed by Joe Arpaio.

M-A: In carrying out the law, is there any way racial profiling can be avoided, or is it inevitable in spite of any guidelines put forth by law enforcement?

Johnson: Racial profiling is a general problem with all law enforcement and the nation still is trying to get a handle on how to eradicate profiling. The enforcement of the immigration laws is particularly prone to excesses and needs to be enforced by a well-trained group of immigration enforcement officers who are closely supervised and whose primary job is enforcing the immigration laws. All of this militates in favor of limiting immigration enforcement to the federal agencies in charge of immigration.

M-A: You’ve written that per a Supreme Court decision, racial profiling is, in fact, not illegal. We’d like to learn more about this. Also, does this mean there is no real legal defense for people who are profiled?

Johnson: Racial profiling is a problem in criminal and immigration law enforcement. There are some legal remedies available but, to this point, have not eliminated the claims of racial profiling in law enforcement by African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities. With respect to immigration enforcement, the concern with racial profiling militates in favor of limiting immigration enforcement to the federal authorities who are trained, have expertise, and are singularly focused on federal immigration enforcement.

Although it may be surprising, the Supreme Court in Brignoni-Ponce v. United States (1975) stated that “Mexican appearance” could be one of many factors relied upon by U.S. immigration enforcement authorities in an immigration stop.  This ruling has contributed to claims of racial profiling in the enforcement of the U.S. immigration laws by the U.S. government.  The fears of profiling are even greater if such power is given to state and local law enforcement officers, who do not have the same training, experience, and expertise in the U.S. immigration laws that U.S. immigration enforcement officers do (and thus may be more likely to rely on crude racial stereotypes of foreignness).

M-A: In addition to challenging the Arizona law, what other action would you like to see from the federal government in this matter?

Johnson: To truly put an end to the many state and local immigration laws, Congress must enact some kind of meaningful comprehensive immigration reform. Until that is accomplished, we will see more state and local efforts to grapple with immigration.