In the wake of President Obama’s announcement on stopping deportations of young people, the immigration news cycle has shifted the lens from an issue that is just as controversial and arguably more influential: the Supreme Court’s pending decision on Arizona’s SB 1070 law, the symbolic touchstone in the national debate over the constitutional and human rights questions surrounding state law enforcement of immigration laws. So while the White House rearranges deck chairs on the Titanic, what’s going down at the bench? And what does it mean for the communities working on the ground to challenge the siege of racial profiling and hate campaigns?
Here, CultureStrike journalist Jeff Biggers talks with Carlos Garcia of the Arizona-based human rights group Puente.
With defiant Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer growing more emboldened as the Supreme Court readies to unveil its ruling on the state’s SB 1070 “papers, please” immigration law, Arizona human rights group Puente and their national allies are bolstering their “Barrio Defense Committees,” as “neighbors link with neighbors to learn their rights and make collective plans to defend themselves.”
They are also asking their fellow Arizona neighbors and politicians to take a stand.
“Within Arizona we’re ready to pose the question to every individual and institution, police department and school district, what side are you on?” Puente executive director Carlos Garcia wrote in an email. “SB 1070 can only function if individuals allow undocumented people to be singled out, if school districts allow their security guards to double as immigration agents, if businesses refuse to offer us safe haven, and ultimately if Obama’s administration agrees to deport whoever Arpaio turns over to ICE.”
Case in point: As President Obama announced his new policy for certain undocumented youth last week, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio ramped up his anti-immigrant dragnets and snared an unaccompanied and undocumented 6-year-old girl who quite possibly lost her parents on the dangerous journey from El Salvador to the United States.
“For migrants in Arizona, our work has turned towards building power for and amongst ourselves,” Garcia noted in an interview. “We went to Congress for reform and were treated like a political football. We asked the president for relief and instead got record deportations. Now even the courts may give SB 1070 the greenlight. It’s time we realize we have only each other and instead of appealing to the powers-that-be, start organizing deeper in our community so that our goals are unshakable demands instead of requests.”
As the nation awaits the Supreme Court decision, Garcia offered his thoughts on the role of the barrio defense committees, civil rights organizations and national advocates, and the parallel between the Obama administration and Arizona’s own draconian immigration law.
Jeff Biggers: Do you anticipate a Supreme Court ruling in favor of AZ’s SB 1070, and if so, do you feel Democrat promises — such as the one made by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer in April, to pass federal legislation to overrule SB 1070 — provide any hope for the future?
Carlos Garcia: Sadly, the court that gave us Plyer v. Doe and Brown v. Board of Education is not likely to decide on the right side of history with its ruling in the Department of Justice case against Arizona SB 1070.
Linda Greenhouse explained it best when explaining how the Department of Justice argued against 1070 in the Supreme Court, but didn’t do so on the grounds of racial profiling or civil rights:
Many casual followers of this case, State of Arizona v. United States, no doubt assume it has something to do with the rights of undocumented immigrants. As the argument made abundantly clear, it doesn’t. The question, rather, is which of two sovereigns, the United States or the state of Arizona, has the right to make the immigrants’ lives difficult.
What the federal government was arguing was that Obama’s deportation machine, via programs the DOJ defended in court like Secure Communities, should be the authority in making immigrants life’s unbearable instead of laws such as SB 1070.
So those of us in Arizona and 1070 copycat states are gearing up for the reality that the “Arpaios” of the country may be given another tool to make our lives miserable. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are likely to be much help in defending our rights after the court ruling.
After SB 1070 passed in 2010, Sen. Schumer sent a letter to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer that asked for a delay of the bill in order to pass immigration reform in Congress “before enactment of SB 1070 becomes necessary.” The day before the Supreme Court hearing, Schumer called in Russell Pearce to a Congressional hearing dismissed as political circus.
For migrants in Arizona, our work has turned towards building power for and amongst ourselves. We went to Congress for reform and were treated like a political football. We asked the president for relief and instead got record deportations. Now even the courts may give SB1070 the greenlight. It’s time we realize we have only each other and instead of appealing to the powers-that-be, start organizing deeper in our community so that our goals are unshakable demands instead of requests.
JB: Do you think there is enough support by Arizona residents — and their outside allies — to launch a mass movement to effectively launch wide-scale non-compliance and halt deployment of the law?
CG: There already is a widespread mass movement fighting back against SB 1070 and its federal counterparts. As I write there are undocumented youth staging sit-ins in presidential campaign offices nationwide calling for relief. Across the country, cities and states are stopping individual deportations, pushing back against dragnet programs, and passing TRUST Acts to become the opposite of the Arizona model.
That said, we’re in a different moment now than two years ago and need to get back to the response we had in 2010. After SB 1070 passed, there was an outrage that swept across the country. Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles called the bill “nazi-like.” Rep. Grijalva echoed our calls for a complete boycott of the state. Phoenix Suns player, Steve Nash, spoke out against the law. There was even an Illinois high school girls basketball teams that cancelled their participation in a tournament here in protest of 1070.
Two years later, SB 1070 has been expanded across the entire country through federal programs and in response our allies have had to engage in the larger campaigns against police and ICE collaboration.
Within Arizona we’re ready to pose the question to every individual and institution, police department and school district, what side are you on? SB 1070 can only function if individuals allow undocumented people to be singled out, if school districts allow their security guards to double as immigration agents, if businesses refuse to offer us safe haven, and ultimately if Obama’s administration agrees to deport whoever Arpaio turns over to ICE. In the coming months, we will force the dilemma, stating ‘We Will Not Comply.’
JB: Some find the “show your papers” clause in SB 1070 to be one of the most objectionable; what sort of mobilizations of resistance could challenge or even derail such an effort by law enforcement?
CG: In 2010, the communities in Arizona prepared for non-compliance, individually and as institutions. With the “show your papers” provision coming back into effect we will renew our call. Its going to be up to documented and undocumented people to exercise their rights, in solidarity documented people will leave their papers home and do only what is required of them to be identified, give their name and date of birth. With the same action we will vow to bring forth lawsuits for those that are racially profiled and unconstitutionally held.
Institutions and businesses will also have an opportunity to not comply with SB 1070. Businesses can promise to not allow police agents that implement SB 1070 to enter their establishments. Municipalities and schools will have the possibility to refuse the implementation of SB 1070.
The State of Arizona, the Supreme Court and a failed two-party political system has allowed rampant racial profiling and abuse in our communities — we must remember that these same entities allowed slavery and segregation. We remain firm in knowing we are on the right side of history and challenging these unjust laws is our only way forward.
JB: Have Puente and other civil rights organizations met with any law enforcement agencies or fraternal associations, especially those who were less favorable of the state law?
CG: One of the best-kept secrets in Arizona is that SB 1070 is already in effect despite the injunction. The Phoenix Police Department, the largest police department in the state, created the policy 4.48 in October of 2010, to make sure they were in compliance with the law if it were to go into effect. What that means is that between the Phoenix PD and Arpaio’s Sheriffs, people in Maricopa County are already being profiled and asked for their papers.
We’ve had discussions with representatives in law enforcement and call on them to repeal policy 4.48 in order to protect the rights of residents in Arizona.
JB: What sort of support network is Puente developing to educate residents about the implications of the new law, the rights of residents?
CG: On May 1, 2010, we led a march of 20,000 to the capitol that ended with people actively strategizing together in small groups instead of passively listening to speakers on a stage. That day gave birth to a model of organizing we call Barrio Defense Committees, where neighbors link with neighbors to learn their rights and make collective plans to defend themselves. CDB’s exist all over the city of Phoenix and the model has spread to Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and other states.
With the law enforcement we have, it’s less about knowing your rights and more about knowing how to defend them. The committees are the building block of our organizing and mobilization. Together with coalition partners in Somos America, we will host community forums to review the bill once again and its impacts on members of our community.
JB: The Brewer administration says “racial profiling is police misconduct” and won’t be tolerated. What leads you to believe this statement is illusory, or even false?
CG: Jan Brewer was elected based on illusions. She made up completely imaginary beheadings in the desert and baselessly blamed immigrants for murdered ranchers to create the context for SB 1070 and her election. In her defense of SB 1070, Brewer stated that dust on a person’s boots could be enough reasonable suspicion to investigate the person’s immigration status. She wouldn’t be able to recognize police misconduct if it came up and smacked her across the face.
People need to understand that, in Maricopa County, Arpaio’s refers to his outdoor jail as his own “concentration camp” and it is tolerated. The murder of Marty Atencio in his jail is tolerated. Ski masked check points that take away parents and leave children with police-issued stuffed animals in their place is tolerated.
The question isn’t what will Jan Brewer tolerate because she is intolerable. The question is what will migrants and our allies in Arizona and around the country tolerate. What more will the Obama administration tolerate before it intervenes in any meaningful way? If SB 1070 goes back into effect, will the President continue to be an accomplice to the human rights crisis already rampant in the state? Or instead will he shut off Arizona’s access to ICE so that the bills victims aren’t separated from their children and parents after being profiled by the misconduct that will escalate after the Supreme Court ruling?
JB: How can religious organizations, civil rights groups, and mainstream supporters from all the country — such as the Unitarian religious associations, which will hold it annual conference in Phoenix next week — support groups like Puente and others working with residents targeted by SB 1070?
CG: Allies are key in two ways. The first is in working from a place of true solidarity. That means letting undocumented people and migrants lead their own movement and taking cues from the ground-up as opposed to trying to manage the movement through intermediaries. The second is in finding ways to take as brave a stand possible as exemplified by the youth who have come out as undocumented and unafraid.
On Saturday, the Unitarian Universalists and Puente will co-host a vigil outside of Sheriff Arpaio’s jail calling for Tent City to be shut down. The Unitarians have steadily supported our community through their Standing on the Side of Love campaign.
For undocumented people, just existing in this country is an act of civil disobedience. What are allies willing to do to match that? Will you donate a piece of your earnings to the cause of people who are banned from earning anything? Are you willing to give up your license and refuse to tell the police your country of origin so that no one else can be singled out?
When the checkpoints go up and the raids come down, will you go to jail to stop them? On July 29th, 2010 a human blockade at Maricopa County Jail forced Arpaio to cancel the celebratory raid he had announced for SB 1070′s first day of implementation.
Actions like such as this are attention-getting, but it is the daily work of keeping our movement running, making phone calls, doing data entry, cleaning offices, etc. where allies are needed as well.
JB: Finally, do you have any plans to force Democrats, including the Obama administration, to make resistance to SB 1070 a key issue in their 2012 elections?
CG: SB 1070 and Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona directly contradict the Obama administration stated priorities. It is only with the assistance of President Obama that our communities are continuing to be destroyed. Instead of suing and investigating Arpaio, Obama can end the suffering by not complying with racist laws and sheriffs in Arizona.
The example has been set by the youth who have taken over campaign offices as “undocumented and unafraid” to challenge the Obama campaign. The entire migrant rights movement, affected communities and allies, must be just as brave.