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Witness testimony from today's Senate hearing on SB 1070

A protester holds a union anti-SB 1070 sign, May 1, 2010
A protester holds a union anti-SB 1070 sign, May 1, 2010
Photo by SEIU International/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this morning on the constitutionality of Arizona's SB 1070 and state immigration laws in general brought some heated testimony, with witnesses that included former Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, the controversial anti-illegal immigration law's chief sponsor.

Oral arguments are set for tomorrow as the U.S. Supreme Court takes on Arizona v. United States, an appeal brought by Arizona that challenges the federal government's assertion that immigration enforcement is the province of federal officials, and that SB 1070 is therefore preempted by federal immigration law. The Senate hearing today was much less relevant in the larger sense than whatever the high court will decide, but the arguments were interesting. Here are some highlights from today's witness testimony.

From Pearce, the former Republican state senate president who is now president of, and whose testimony connected illegal immigration with the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks:

Had law enforcement enforced our immigration laws we would have averted 9/11. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 underscored for all Americans the link between immigration law enforcement and terrorism. Four of the five leaders of the 9/11 attack were in violation of our immigration laws and had contact with law enforcement but were not arrested.

Nineteen alien terrorists had been able to violate our immigration laws, overstay their visas or violate their Immigration statuses with impunity, and move freely within the Country without significant interference from federal or local law enforcement. The abuse of U.S. Immigration laws was instrumental in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people on that tragic day in America.

From the testimony presented by Arizona Sen. Steve Gallardo, a Democrat:
Mr. Chairman and members, I would submit to you, SB 1070's true intention, its primary objective was to make second-class citizens of U.S. Latinos. To discourage them from voting, from going to school, seeking employment and realizing the American dream.

Immigration enforcement is only a secondary objective and by their own admission, the authors and supporters of SB 1070, intended to harass immigrants, to create a hostile and miserable environment so that immigrants would rather choose to "self-deport," and have shown no regard for the civil rights abuses of Latino citizens.

This by its very nature defines this strategy is reckless and abusive. SB 1070 is neither an immigration policy, nor a legal position but rather a campaign of harassment and intimidation directed solely according to the person's complexion.

From Todd Landfried, executive director of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform, whose testimony included data on the costs and other effects of state and local immigration measures:
Study after study on jurisdiction after  jurisdiction; year after year, whenever and wherever these laws are tried, the results are always the same and they’re always bad. Mr. Chairman, I am not aware of a single study in the public domain that indicates any one of these jurisdictions have experienced any positive economic impact. Not one.

To be fair, there are studies that show these laws are successful in one aspect: they cause undocumented immigrants to move. Whether they move within the state, out of state, or back home is a difficult question to answer. But what tends to happen to those who remain is we push them deeper into the underground  economy, where these workers suddenly become entrepreneurs and open cash businesses, thereby taking even more money out the economy that we would be better off having in it.

And from Dennis DeConcini, a former Democratic U.S. Senator from Arizona, whose testimony included a television news clip about a Latino U.S. citizen in Phoenix who was profiled shortly after the state legislature in Arizona approved SB 1070 in 2010:
Finally, let’s ask who is the target of SB 1070? If anyone tells you it is only the drug or gun trafficking criminals, they are mistaken. SB1070 targets those with brown skin and in my state, those are my neighbors, my friends, and successful business associates.

I have been a law enforcement officer and a U.S. Senator and when you mix law enforcement at the benefit of political expediency as our Legislature did with SB1070, you create a toxic environment. I am sorry for my state, and I am worried that the ill-considered consequences the actions our State leaders have caused our latino population.

The Senate hearing continued with a questions and answers, which included a back-and-forth over racial profiling and how local law officers are supposed to identify someone who is undocumented. An archived webcast of the hearing can be downloaded here.