“My wife does not have immigration papers,” the frantic caller noted, “and I’m worried she might be deported.”
The caller, a U. S. citizen living in Phoenix, was responding to reports about a new law for immigrants who live in Arizona.
His worries are not uncommon.
Arizona Senate Bill 1070 Sparks Immigrant Fears
On April 23, 2009, the State of Arizona passed Arizona Senate Bill 1070. Most immigration scholars and news sources, like the Huffington Post, have called SB 1070 one of the strongest anti-immigrant laws ever passed by a state government in the United States.
Under this new law, if police officers have a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is an immigrant without legal papers, they can stop that person and take them into custody.
As a San Diego immigration attorney, I tell my clients SB 1070 means that anyone living, or just visiting, Arizona has to carry documents showing they were born here or entitled to live here at all times. If a person does not have such evidence, there is a strong chance they will be charged with a misdemeanor.
Naturally, the fears of detention and deportation have greatly increased for all immigrant communities.
The new law is supposed to go into effect by the end of July 2009. Various organizations and agencies, including the City of Phoenix, is considering filing law suits against the State of Arizona to stop the new law. They argue that the law violates the rights not just of immigrants, but also of U. S. citizens.
Is “Reasonable Suspicion” A Pretext For Racial Profiling?
Everyone who talks to me about SB 1070 wants to know what is “reasonable suspicion.”
According to one Congressman, Brian Bilbray, law enforcement already know the clues. The big clues, he said in an MSNBC television interview, are the way a person dresses and walks.
The shoes an immigrant wears, noted Bilbray, are a tell-tale sign.
If he wasn’t being point blank serious, I would have thought Bilbray was auditioning for a comedy show.
A real political clown, seeking cheap votes.
A real political fool, taking advantage of undocumented immigrants’ inability to politically defense themselves at the election polls.
I have been an immigration attorney in California and Arizona for almost 17 years. I cannot tell who is and who is an undocumented immigrant by the way they dress and walk.
I have handled cases for immigrants from at least 80 different countries. I cannot tell who is here with papers and who is not here with papers just by the way they dress and walk.
Does an undocumented immigrant from Poland dress and walk differently from a green card holder from Poland?
Does an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador dress and walk differently from a naturalized U. S. citizen born in El Salvador?
Does an undocumented immigrant from Lebanon dress and walk differently from a lawful permanent resident from Lebanon?
Sometimes. But not always.
In short, Bilbray is playing the race card. His goal is nothing less than to divide and conquer.
It’s no small wonder why the public is increasingly losing respect for elected representatives.
A Tough Road Ahead: Defending Immigrants Against Deportation In Arizona
Most deportation defense lawyers will tell you that the real basis for the Arizona law is racially based.
Throughout the nation, immigration experts from New York to New Mexico, argue the law is mainly an anti-Hispanic, anti-Mexican immigrant law.
As a result, if you are a Hispanic who lives in California, you need to plan carefully before going to Arizona for vacation. Take birth certificates, lawful residency papers, and naturalization documents before you cross the border. Even if you have been granted permanent residence through a family member or U. S. citizenship, you should carry proof while in Arizona.
Of course, proving a racial bias is often impossible. The legal standards present a formidable barrier to winning such charges.
The War For Rational Immigration Change Is Far From Over
It is not clear how strict law enforcement offices in Arizona will enforce the new rules, but you should not take any risks. After all, who knows what reasonable suspicion really means?
If you are stopped, and there are problems with your immigration papers, do not give up hope. Consult with an immigration lawyer who fights deportations.
Even though Arizona law may have changed, immigration rules are still the same. Attorneys, trained in art of deportation defense, can still fight back at immigration court.
On a political level, immigrant rights advocates lost this battle. But they did not lose the war.
Most likely, the law suits which challenge SB 1070 will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.
In the meantime, whether it takes vigorous deportation and removal defense, or requires the help of a compassionate immigration appeals lawyer, those of us committed to defending immigrants will not stop fighting for our clients.
And in the end, it’s my belief, justice for deserving immigrants will prevail.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics