Today, September 1st, was supposed to be the first day that Alabama’s new immigration law would be implemented. Thankfully, however, Federal Judge Sharon Blackburn temporarily blocked this law from going into effect, and will instead issue a formal ruling by September 28th, giving her more time to review its constitutionality. Among other things, this law requires that the police detain anyone they suspect of being in the country without proper documentation and that public schools determine the citizenship status of all students. It also makes it a crime to harbor, transport, hire or rent to someone who does not have papers establishing their legal residence in the country. When Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed this into law last June 9th, it was called the toughest immigration law in the nation.
Arizona’s immigration law in 2010, known as SB1070 or the “’Papers, please’ law,” is almost identical to Alabama’s. Like Alabama, Arizona’s law sent civil rights groups, attorneys, business owners, religious leaders, public officials and human rights advocates (myself included) into a frenzy over this “attrition through enforcement” attack on immigrants, which aims to wear them down so heavily that they are forced to leave country on their own. Arizona’s law was also blocked, though only partially, just days before it was set to go into effect in July 2010. As someone who has been on the front lines of the fight against Arizona’s SB1070, Alabama’s timeline is starting to feel eerily familiar.
Arizona’s SB1070 has spent more than a year tied up in the courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court is still deciding whether or not to lift the injunction. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer actually skipped a step in the appeal process in an effort to get the law into effect faster. Given Judge Blackburn’s temporary block of Alabama’s law on Monday, it certainly seems like Alabama is headed down a similar path. For the residents of these two states, and other states also considering similar laws, these legal battles mean lots of waiting, lots of money, and a whole lot of legal jargon that’s tough to decipher—especially when trying to understand how it will affect each of us in our own lives.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the legal battles, but the most disturbing part about the laws is the flagrant disregard for the civil rights of ALL people, immigrants or not. For example, Arizona’s law authorizes any law enforcement officer, without warrant, to arrest someone who he/she “reasonably suspects” to be in the country without documentation, without detailing what constitutes “reasonable suspicion.” Under both laws, simply giving a ride to anyone without papers would be considered a crime. The idea that each human being has certain basic rights that must be respected, regardless of immigration status or country of origin, certainly appears to be lost within these pieces of legislation. In their attempts to allegedly “protect” their states from the “harms” of immigration, Arizona and Alabama are, in reality, infringing upon the rights of everyone, setting a dangerous (and costly) precedent in the process.
Hispanic Heritage Month begins in just two weeks (on September 15th). As we await Judge Blackburn’s official ruling on Alabama’s immigration law, it seems like an appropriate time to contemplate and recognize the value of ALL immigrants in our society, Hispanic and otherwise, rather than adopt an “attrition through enforcement” approach that violates everyone’s basic dignity.
Hilary Tone is the Communications & Outreach Associate for The Equal Rights Center. Prior to joining the ERC, she was the Communications Coordinator for Border Action Network, a human rights organization based in Arizona.