Today, the Supreme Court upheld one of the most severe and controversial measures of Arizona’s infamous anti-immigrant law, SB 1070. The court unanimously affirmed the state’s granting of unprecedented power to its police to check the immigration status of people suspected of being illegally in the country. The decision does strike down other offensive provisions, but keeps intact the critical “show me your papers” provision that has become the focal point of activist campaigns since the law was first passed in 2010.
The measures rejected by the court, according to SCOTUS Blog, include restrictions on the right of undocumented immigrants to seek employment in the state, and warrantless arrest powers for police that target immigrants suspected of a “deportable offense.” The court also struck down the sweeping provision that would further criminalize the very presence of an undocumented immigrant on Arizona soil.
Though the ruling has been considered a “split decision,” in light of the current political climate, the Court’s affirmation of the anti-immigrant crackdown symbolized by SB 1070 is another frontal assault on civil rights in Arizona and beyond. The atmosphere of hostility and vicious jingoism that fueled, and been stoked by, SB 1070 will continue to loom over immigrant communities in Arizona and all the other states like Alabama, where “copycat” legislation has mushroomed in the wake of Arizona’s measure. The mixed decision could influence state lawmakers nationwide in terms of constructing police tactics that target undocumented immigrants and their families. It also underscores the need for a national, coherent overhaul of federal immigration policy to address the crisis of mass deportations and rampant anti-immigrant discrimination and violence.
The court’s ruling was not centered on civil liberties or civil rights per se, but rather, on the question of whether the state overstepped its constitutional boundaries by regulating immigration. In terms of the impact on the ground, it’s difficult to predict to what extent this ruling will open the door to further racial profiling. After all, activists have long been calling attention to severe discrimination in law enforcement–most notably the hellish xenophobic gauntlet built by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. In other words, whatever the court or state legislatures say, the momentum for the struggle won’t be handed down from above but cultivated organically on the ground.
CultureStrike writer Jeff Biggers explains at Salon that the mass movement that has sprung out of SB 1070 has helped turn the tide on the immigration debate, primarily by making immigrants visible and reaffirming their human rights in the face of relentless attacks by the state and “nativist” groups:
What a difference two years make. Welcome to Arizona Libre.
In one of the most important political stories overlooked by the major media outlets, Parraz and his bipartisan alliance of young Latinos, retiring baby boomers and moderate Republicans fed up with the hate-filled rhetoric managed to pull off an astonishing recall election of SB 1070 architect and once invincible Russell Pearce last fall. Taking their accountability campaign one step further, the Citizens for a Better Arizona and other advocates now have the notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the frontier face of SB 1070 enforcement, on the ropes. Facing a crushing Department of Justice civil rights violation suit, as well as a long-awaited racial profiling suit next month, and a serious 2012 election challenger for the first time in his 20-year reign as the Tent City sheriff, Arpaio will soon join Pearce at the Tea Party retirement home. Thousands rallying reminded him of this at an unprecedented protest on Saturday….
Drawing inspiration from the philosophy of direct action that drove the grassroots organizers of the Civil Rights movement, groups like Puente are taking the law into their own hands in various communities. But these aren’t your typical vigilantes: they act with a message of positive protest, community building and economic justice–and they deploy the creative arts, storytelling, and culture to broaden perspectives on immigration within the movement and in the broader public. The Obama administration’s recent move to halt deportations of many undocumented youth sheds light on the power of ground-up advocacy. Quoting Puente director Carlos Garcia, Biggers notes:
Meanwhile, the 2010 protests against SB 1070 “gave birth to a model of organizing we call Barrio Defense Committees,” Garcia recently declared, “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.”
In an interview ahead of the Supreme Court ruling, Garcia sounded a warning and a call to arms to his fellow activists:
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.
The politics surrounding SB 1070, the stagnation in Congress surrounding the DREAM Act and immigration reform, the epidemic of deportations, and the continual economic exploitation of migrants and their communities–all of these help activists identify the obstacles standing in their way, but perhaps more importantly, they help reveal who their real allies are. If politicians don’t have your back, then you have no choice but to “build power” yourself–and no one can legislate that away.
So now that the Supreme Court’s narrow ruling has framed the challenges that lie ahead for the immigrant rights movement, tomorrow is another day. Join activists in the Bay Area at a pro-migrant cultural gathering on Tuesday, June 26, featuring Jose Antonio Vargas and CultureStrike’s own Julio Salgado, at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley.
And right now, you can sign a petition to tell President Obama that he has the power to mitigate SB 1070′s most destructive impacts by refusing to cooperate with Arizona’s anti-immigrant policies.