Last week, the US Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of Arizona’s notorious SB 1070. I was profoundly interested in the outcome not only because I am an Arizona resident and aware of the human rights implications if this law was allowed to stand, but also because I have been doing ethnographic research with a Phoenix Latino community over the past 5 years and I have witnessed first-hand how the lead-up to, passage and aftermath of SB 1070 has negatively affected the community and its members.
The Court upheld the most egregious provision of SB1070: the “show me your papers“ provision which requires law enforcement to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop in the course of routine policing if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that person is undocumented. The ability of authorities to treat others differently based on appearance was not declared unconstitutional, as were three other provisions of the bill.
At the time the Arizona v. United States decision was handed down, I was not in Arizona but in North Carolina for a family emergency. I was monitoring the progress of the proceedings via Facebook, live blogs, CNN and texting with a colleague who had been attending the vigils held in Phoenix. Given that North Carolina has a significant Latino population (more than 800,000 people) and is considered to be the hub of Latino migration to the South, I was surprised that so many around me didn’t seem to grasp the importance of what was happening – even though South Carolina, the state next door, passed similar anti-immigrant legislation last summer and it too included a “show me your papers“ provision.
Being in the South at the time of the ruling highlighted the parallels with Jim Crow, the de jure institutionalized racism that prevailed one hundred years ago. (I was not the only one who made this connection as this powerful poster by artists Favianna Rodriguez, Roberto Lovato and Gan Golan began circulating the next day).
Listening to the media responses to the ruling was like listening to someone from another reality. I heard conservative commentators pooh pooh the idea that racial profiling would flourish under the allowed provision. I live in Maricopa County where, under Sheriff Arpaio’s guidance, racial profiling thrives. He and his office are being sued by the Department of Justice for, among other things, targeting Latinos for traffic stops. In my own work, I have heard multiple stories from men and women of being targets of hostility and suspicion for speaking Spanish in public, for having the Mexican eagle on their truck, for waiting at a bus stop late at night.
Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, acknowledged that police offers may resort to racial profiling, but that would raise constitutional concerns. In other words, eyes will be on Arizona; if you don’t behave, you will face more court challenges about civil rights violations. Really? We have to go through MORE instances of discrimination and differential treatment before the injustices are addressed in the courts?
Other commentators have pointed out that the provision upheld already exists in federal law as if that is sufficient justification to roll over and play dead. What about working to change the law at the federal level? What about recognizing the immorality of the law itself? The commodification and dehumanization of people so that they are no more than “aliens”? Where pundits claim the moral high ground of preserving rule of law, I see violation of human rights. The appeals to “protect our communities from illegals” as if immigrants are not part of our communities angers and saddens me.
At the same time, I look forward to the next steps. I have been a witness to the changes in Arizona, to the slow and steady encroachment of hate and hostility towards Latinos in general, and immigrants in particular. But alongside this, I have also witnessed the conscientización of a new generation of community-based activists. The chilly climate created by the passage of SB1070, the ban of ethnic studies, the expansion of the 287(g) program, etc. has been a catalyst for a Phoenix-based Latino grassroots protest to mature. In a future essay, I’ll write about the multiple ways resistance manifests here in the desert.
For now, quiero decir algo:
MALCS participated in the Arizona boycott called two summers ago when Jan Brewer signed SB1070 into law. The politically correct thing to do then was to boycott Arizona, to refuse to spend money here and thus economically undermine the state, since tourism is one of Arizona’s major source of tax revenue. MALCS has always been dear to my heart – I credit MALCistas with getting me through graduate school – but to be honest, I felt abandoned when the national Summer Institute was cancelled. We were on the frontlines, and where was our support? How hard was it to refuse to come to a state where the thermometer hits 115? But I had no time to explore those feelings as we here in Arizona quickly re-organized the Institute into a State Conference, bringing together local activists and scholars, and growing in the process. This year, the theme of the Summer Institute in Santa Barbara is Todos somos Arizona. As we prepare to juntarnos once again, I ask you to reflect on what that means for your scholarship, your activism, and your corazón.
As new co-moderator of Mujeres Talk, this essay was written not as an intellectual exercise, but as a rumination entre hermanas. Responses welcome.
Seline Szkupinski Quiroga is a child of immigrants and a medical anthropologist living in Phoenix, Arizona. She is a new member of the MALCS Communications and Web team.