On July 29, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his team of about 200 police officers and volunteers arrested 23 people who had chained themselves and blocked the door to his jail in Phoenix, Arizona, causing him to delay his planned raids that day on immigrant communities. The civil disobedience was one of many demonstrations against the controversial Arizona immigration enforcement law SB-1070, which went into effect on that same day. While the protest diverted Arpaio and his team for a few hours, by late afternoon they were back on the streets doing a “sweep”—descending upon parts of the city and pulling people over for routine traffic violations and then checking their immigration status. As for the temporary, partial court injunction issued by federal judge Susan Bolton, which prevented four key sections of the SB-1070 law from going into effect, Arpaio responded by saying: “It doesn’t matter what the ruling is by the federal judge. We’re going to do it anyway.”
There is a strong sentiment in Arizona’s immigrant and Latino communities that even if Bolton had ruled for a full injunction, the battle for human rights and justice for immigrants would be far from over. Tucson resident Lynda Cruz put it succinctly: “The problem is not just 1070, but the fact that such legislation was able to be passed in the first place . . . We have been living SB-1070 even before they drafted it.” But while Arpaio’s customary bravado underscores the vigilante attitude running rampant in Arizona, what he doesn’t say is that he’s authorized to do his immigration sweeps not under Arizona state legislation, but federal law.
Though President Obama has been a vocal opponent of Arizona’s new draconian immigration law, there is already Arizona-like federal policy in the form of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “Agreements of Cooperation in Communities to Enhance Safety and Security” (ACCESS) programs that increase collaboration among local law enforcement and ICE. Furthermore, deportations have been higher during the first nine months of this fiscal year than during the same period of Fiscal Year 2008 —279,035 under Obama as compared to 254,763 under the last year of Bush, a 10% increase. Huffington Post writer Roberto Lovato has dubbed the Obama Administration as a “frenemy” of SB-1070, “friendly to the point of continuing and expanding Bush-era policies that brought about SB-1070, enemy who sues parts of a law that his own administration helped create.”
Eight out of 15 jurisdictions in Arizona (and 467 jurisdictions in 26 states across the nation) have implemented the ICE ACCESS Secure Communities program, a program that uses biometric information sharing to track and prosecute immigrants. And Arizona is already home to seven of the nation’s 287(g) agreements, ICE ACCESS programs that deputize state and local police to enforce immigration law. There are 63 such agreements in effect throughout the United States.
It is through a 287(g) agreement between ICE and the Maricopa County sheriff’s office that gives Arpaio the authority to make “sweeps” in search of people who are undocumented by stopping people for routine traffic violations, including window tint that is too dark or improper lane changes. Under 287(g), Arpaio has conducted 17 such sweeps arresting over 935 people after accessing their immigration records during traffic stops.
While the most egregious provisions of SB-1070 were struck down by Bolton’s ruling, the provisions of the law that did take effect on July 29 still make it one of the harshest anti-immigrant laws in the country. The law makes it illegal to transport a person who is undocumented; it makes it a crime to stop traffic to hire a day laborer; and it allows Arizona residents to “file suit against any agency, official, city or county for adopting policies restricting enforcement of federal immigration law.” Under the new law, even in its enjoined form, police officers are given the new power to impound vehicles used to transport immigrants, even when one is transporting family members. “This decision converts the reverend driving a church van of his congregants into a criminal,” explained Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborer Organizing Networks. “It renders the day laborer repairing your neighborhood a criminal under 1070 . . . Cities who seek to protect the residents that make them function will be punished.”
Protesters not only filled the streets throughout Arizona rejecting SB-1070, but also demonstrated across the nation in Chicago, Milwaukee, Louisville, San Francisco, Oakland, Boston, Detroit, and Long Island. A demonstration in New York City shut down the Brooklyn Bridge for a number of hours, while another one in Los Angeles blocked the busy Wilshire Boulevard with the message “We want full human rights. The injunction is not enough.”
While some who opposed 1070 were celebrating what they called a “sigh of relief” from the partial injunction, for many the judge’s ruling came as a slap in the face. Carlos Garcia of the Phoenix-based Puente Movement said of the partial injunction, “Many are celebrating today because some sections are being blocked. While they can breathe a sigh of relief for the minimal injunction, our breath catches with the added boots on our communities’ necks. Deciding to use an open hand instead of a closed fist makes this no less of a blow to the people of Arizona.”
Nevertheless, SB-1070-like legislation is already being played out in communities across the country, including communities within Arizona itself. As day-labor organizer Alvarado said, “Solving this crisis means not just stopping SB-1070 and Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona, but stopping all the Arpaios that the president’s ICE ACCESS program is creating across the country.”
Rachel Winch is a NACLA Research Associate.
- Welcome To America: The Immigration Backlash
- Elections in the U.K.: A Hard-Line Stance on Immigration
- Of Migrants and Minutemen: Inside the Immigration Battle
- Arizonans React to New Immigration Law