The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a key component of Arizona’s controversial immigration law Monday, allowing local police to request documentation from people they suspect to be in the country illegally. It struck down “two provisions that made it a crime for an illegal immigrant to seek work or fail to register with the federal government,” NPR reported. It also ruled against “a portion of the law that allowed state and local law enforcement officers to arrest anyone based solely on the suspicion that the individual was in the country illegally.”
Governor Jan Brewer declared the ruling a victory, according to Politico. “Today is the day when the key components of our efforts to protect the citizens of Arizona, to take up the fight against illegal immigration in a balanced and constitutional way, has unanimously been vindicated by the highest court in the land,” she said. “Arizona’s and every other state’s inherent authority to protect and defend its people has been upheld.”
But the ruling “reignited concerns that the law could lead to widespread racial profiling and civil-rights violations by overzealous police targeting Hispanics, including U.S. citizens or those who are here legally,” The Arizona Republic reported. Writing at The Grio, Judith Browne Dianis said the decision is also “a mixed bag and a cautionary note for black folks” because anti-immigration laws “intrinsically include us in their broad sweep, as civil rights violations always do. ”
“I am pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law,” President Obama said in a statement. “What this decision makes unmistakably clear is that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform. A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system – it’s part of the problem.”
His administration went further. “Just hours after the Supreme Court issued its decision on SB1070, federal officials said they would immediately rescind a controversial federal-state partnership that uses local cops in Arizona to detain immigrants,” Colorlines reported.
Rival Mitt Romney took the opposite approach, according to The Washington Post. “I would have preferred to see the Supreme Court give more latitude to states, not less. And the states, now under this decision, have less authority, less latitude, to enforce immigration law,” he reportedly said at a fundraiser in Scottsdale.
The ruling could be a “boon” to the president, but Romney loses no matter what, said Howard Fineman at The Huffington Post. “Praise the court and [Romney] offends Latinos; fault it and he offends social conservatives who have made a crackdown on the undocumented a key Tea Party plank. … Since possession of a valid driver’s license is, under the Arizona law, sufficient proof of citizenship, the ruling will force legal residents and citizens to get them if they don’t have them. There’s no better place to run a registration drive than at or near a DMV. Most of those voters are likely to be Democrats, or at least Obama supporters,” Fineman wrote.
Either way, “Many politicians – and Americans in general – don’t understand the complex contours of Hispanic voters in America,” The Christian Science Monitor reported. The problem begins with the term Hispanic, which was reportedly “manufactured by Congress in 1976 to be an umbrella term that applies to all Americans of Spanish descent.”
Speaking of Hispanics, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference issued a statement stating, in part, that the Court “initiated the process of establishing a legal firewall against draconian measures as it pertains to immigration” and conveyed “a clear message that 21st century jurisprudence will not tolerate measures that polarize and segregate our communities.”
Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform also issued a statement, from Jim Wallis, that said, in part, “The decision to strike down key provisions of this legislation is a victory for everyone in the faith community who seeks to follow the Bible’s call for concern for the vulnerable and ‘stranger’ among us. Arizona’s immoral legislation threatened families, harmed children, and made it difficult for law enforcement to safeguard the communities they swore to protect; it remains important to ensure that any remaining parts of the legislation are never used to justify racial profiling by local police.”
The American Civil Liberties Union will devote $8.7 million to fight expansion of “show me your papers” laws in other states, its Executive Director Anthony D. Romero announced Monday. The ACLU will “aggressively battle any state’s attempts to enact copycat legislation while also fighting the ‘corrosive effects’ of existing anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and five other states,” its statement said.
It may be an uphill battle. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 55% of likely voters wanted SB1070 upheld, while only 26% wanted it overturned. Nineteen percent were undecided about the law.
What do you think?
Did the U.S. Supreme Court make the right decision?
Mixed Review from Justices
After hearing arguments Wednesday about SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration law, the United States Supreme Court justices seemed inclined to uphold some parts of the law and block others, the Chicago Tribune reported. The justices said they “saw no problem with requiring police officers to check the immigration status of people who are stopped,” the Tribunereported, but “were troubled by parts of the Arizona law that made it a state crime for illegal immigrants to not carry documents or seek work.”
S.B. 1070 is ‘Ethically Bankrupt’ and ‘Immoral’
“This legislation is not just ethically bankrupt but undermines basic Christian values and American ideals. The court will decide whether it is legal, but it is already clear it isn’t moral,” wrote Jim Wallis and the Rev. Max Rodus at The Huffington Post.
It’s Really About Fear, Power, and Freedom
At CNN.com, Ruben Navarrette Jr. said the law is primarily about fear, power, and freedom: Fear because “the realization that whites would soon become a statistical minority in Arizona just as they are in California, Texas and New Mexico” was the fuel that fed SB 1070, “or as local activists have dubbed it: ‘The Mexican Removal Act.'”; power because the law “essentially deputizes local and state police”and “gives them the power to act as surrogates for Immigration and Customs Enforcement”; and, freedom because “U.S.-born Latinos should be free from harassment. They shouldn’t have to prove they belong in their own country.”
Latinos Are Fleeing the State
“Whatever the outcome,” “much damage will already have been done,” writes J.D. Tuccille at Reason. His wife is a pediatrician in Northern Arizona and he says some of her Latino patients won’t make the trip to Phoenix or Tuscon to see specialists when she refers them because they “have chosen to forego that particular gauntlet of crewcut peril and either put off treatment or seek it out of state.” Tuccille says 100,000 Hispanics have left the state since the passage of S.B. 1070.
Damaged Reputation or Inspiration?
Likewise, the Los Angeles Times reported that the law has damaged Arizona’s reputation. It cites a study by the Center for American Progress that found conventions cancelations after passage of SB 1070 “cost the state more than $23 million in lost tax revenue and at least $350 million in direct spending by conventions’ would-be attendees.” But, the American Civil Liberties Union reportsthat “after the law passed in 2010, two dozen copycat bills were introduced in state legislatures across the country; five passed in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah.” Lawsuits have been filed in all six states by the ACLU and other civil rights organizations, it says.
Legal Issues ‘Deliberately Misread’
National Review went meta with an editorial in support of the law that said the legal issues surrounding S.B. 1070 are being deliberately misread. “The Justice Department’s case rests instead on a willful misreading of federal statute, and it reinterprets the requirement that states not preempt federal immigration laws as a requirement that states harmonize their own laws with federal immigration enforcement practices — or in this case, with the lack thereof,” the editorial said.
A Moot Point in Face of Immigration Decline?
Meanwhile, the number of Mexican immigrants has “dropped significantly for the first time in decades,” the Associated Press reported, because many haven’t been able to find work in the U.S. and have returned to Mexico. Sixty percent of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are from Mexico, the article said. “Roughly 6.1 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants were living in the U.S. last year, down from a peak of nearly 7 million in 2007, according to the Pew Hispanic Center study released Monday,” AP reported.
What do you think?
Should the U.S. Supreme Court uphold or overturn S.B. 1070?
A delegation of prominent evangelical leaders traveled to Alabama this week to oppose the state’s new immigration law, HB 56. The group spent a day at a Birmingham church, where they talked to educators, students, health care providers, pastors, and families impacted by the law, they told reporters on a conference call yesterday.
Where Are White Evangelicals Now?
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, described HB 56 as an “anti-American,” “anti-Christian,” “anti-family” “violation of basic civil rights.” He said it is instilling fear, not only in undocumented immigrants, but in those who are in the United States legally.
I asked Rodriguez if there is more or less white evangelical support for comprehensive immigration reform now than there was when I interviewed him about the issue for Christianity Today in 2006.
“We have more white evangelicals supportive than in 2006 for sure, both in its leadership and from people in the pews, but I cannot come to the considered conclusion that we have overwhelming or even majority support in the evangelical community for a comprehensive solution,” said Rodriguez. “We do not have enough support to push back the Alabama law.”
Rodriguez described Alabama as a strongly evangelical state in the heart of the Bible belt and said that if Christians had put their faith before their American citizenship, the law would never have passed.
“It was Christian apathy in Alabama—that’s the best case scenario—if not Christian endorsement of the Alabama law that has resulted in our current malaise,” said Rodriguez.
Does Rodriguez Regret African American Comparison?
In light of UrbanFaith reader criticism of Rodriguez’s statement to CNN comparing the plight of Hispanics and undocumented immigrants to that of African Americans, I asked if the comparison diminished the long history of African American oppression in this country.
“No, as a matter of fact, I stand by my comments one hundred percent,” said Rodriguez.
“I can tell you that the vast majority of African Americans understand that what’s taking place here is a lot more than just illegal immigration. …The things that we’re seeing in Alabama and Arizona, these manifestations, they’re not addressing the elephant in the room. They’re trying to go around it, and that is the Latinization of America. The 21st century is an immigrant civil rights issue, a Latino civil rights issue because the vast majority of immigrants are Latino. This has to do with pressing one for English and pressing two for Spanish. Let’s not be naive. This is not just about illegal immigration,” Rodriguez explained.
Earlier on the call, Rodriguez had said his organization is launching a campaign to encourage Hispanic leaders and pastors move to Alabama in order to test whether or not the intention of the law is to “purge” Alabama of “any ethnicity group that does not reflect the majority composition of the state.”
Perhaps this is what he had in mind when he told me “initiatives, campaigns, billboards, conference calls” won’t succeed. “We need a movement that will accomplish comprehensive immigration reform,” Rodriguez concluded.
Is the Moral Obligation Greater?
Dr. Carlos Campo, president of Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, also weighed in on the Civil Rights movement comparison.
“This movement is not about a people that are protected, at least in language, by the laws of the United States as fully, clearly as African Americans were, at least in the letter of the law,” said Campo. “That’s one of the reasons there’s an even greater obligation in terms of a moral response here, is these are the least and the last in our community. These are the very ones to whom we believe our God would call us to because they don’t have equal protection under the law.”
Campo doesn’t believe Alabamans fully understood the implications of the law, he said.
“I think there were certain leaders who did understand, but I believe there are a number of people in the Alabama faith community, as they see the implementation of this law, are appalled by what has been passed. And I think it is time for folks in the church not to remain silent any longer and to speak up on behalf of those who cannot or are too fearful to do so,” said Campo.
Is HB 56 Racial Profiling at Its Worst?
Also on the call was Rev. Daniel DeLeon, Senior Pastor of Templo Calvario in Santa Ana, California, and chairman of the National Hispanic Pentacostal Congress.
DeLeon was motivated to go to Alabama after he heard politicians say the law is accomplishing what they wanted it to accomplish. This represents “racial profiling at its worst,” he said. It bothered him too, as an American citizen, to see that “human rights have gone out the window,” he said.
Rev. Jim Tolle, senior pastor of Church on the Way in Los Angeles, California, described himself as a Republican evangelical, and said he believes “subconscious racism” was at play in the passage of HB56. He called attention to the fact that all Americans other than “first nations people” have immigrant histories. “Everybody arrived without permission,” said Tolle.
Both Tolle and DeLeon talked about the immigration struggles of longtime members of their Calfiornia churches. Tolle said a 27 year member had been deported “overnight” and DeLeon said a leader in his church had been trying unsuccessfully for years to legalize his immigration status. Both of these men have children who were born in the United States, the pastors said.
Do the Players Matter?
Robert Gittelson, co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, said nothing that undocumented immigrants face in California compares to what they are facing in Alabama and Arizona. He noted that Arizona senators John McCain and Jon Kyl were key proponents of the failed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 and a key “obstructionist” was Alabama senator Jeff Sessions. Sessions is still a leading opponent of comprehensive immigration reform, he said.
What do you think?
Is Rev. Rodriguez’s response to reader criticism of his African American / undocumented immigrant comparison adequate?
SWIFT INJUSTICE?: Former U.S. Marine Jose Guerena was shot down in his own home by police.
The morning of May 5 must have been a nightmare for the Guerena family. After a SWAT team shot 71 bullets at 26-year-old Jose Guerena in his home, his wife Vanessa Guerena dialed 911, begging for an ambulance. It was about 9:30 a.m. in Tucson, Ariz., and Jose Guerena, a former U.S. Marine and Iraq War veteran, had just confronted the SWAT team with a rifle.
Paramedics arrived at the scene and waited an hour and 14 minutes for the clear to go in, but deputies never allowed them to treat or examine Guerena. At 10:59 a.m., Jose Guerena was pronounced dead. Of the 71 bullets, 22 had hit and killed him.
Vanessa Guerena later told the media that she and her husband thought the raid was a home invasion. She had seen a man with a gun through a window and had awoken Jose Guerena, who had been sleeping after working a night shift, according to news reports. Vanessa Guerena said her husband told her and their 4-year-old son Joel to hide in the closet and then went to face the intruders.
Moments later, the SWAT team opened fire on Jose Guerena. Some police officers later explained they thought they saw a muzzle flash, but they later learned that Jose Guerena hadn’t even taken his gun off safety.
As Jose Guerena bled to death, the 911 operator asked Vanessa Guerena questions to determine if she was calling from one of the houses a SWAT team had been sent to. The recording of the phone conversation has been released and can be heard on the Arizona Daily Star website.
“Please send me an ambulance and you can ask more questions later, please!” Vanessa Guerena said over the phone.
The video of the shooting taken from an officer’s helmet camera has been released and published by KGUN 9 news. (Note: The video is not graphic. You can see and hear the SWAT team shooting, but Jose Guerena’s body is not visible.)
Facing pressure to come clean with the details, the sheriff said last week that the raid was part of a 20-month drug and homicide investigation. But in the end, police didn’t find any drugs in the Guerena home. The Pima County Sheriff’s Department has reluctantly been releasing more information over the past month, including the above video, a transcript of their interrogation of Vanessa Guerena (part one and part two), and the transcript of the debriefing after the shooting.
On Thursday, the Sheriff’s Department finally released the search warrant, along with affidavits and property sheets. The new information gives us an idea why they suspected Jose Guerena of being connected to their drug and homicide investigation, but lacks any evidence that would have warranted an arrest.
But now, not even the most condemning evidence could diminish the tragedy that occurred. Perhaps one of the reasons this particular tragedy strikes deeply is because history carries many such stories of police aggression against minorities—revealing a prejudice that hasn’t disappeared.
In the instant an officer’s finger rests on the trigger, the shade of the suspect’s skin can influence their decision to fire. University of Chicago assistant professor Joshua Correll and other researchers ran a study in which police officers had to decide whether or not to shoot a suspect in a video simulation. The study found that officers made the decision to shoot armed black suspects more quickly than armed white suspects, according to “Race as a Trigger” in The Chicago Reporter.
When such a racial bias exists, the death of Jose Guerena is yet another incident that is widening the rift between law enforcement and minority communities.
Even if the SWAT team was convinced Jose Guerena was ready to shoot them, was it necessary to fire 71 bullets at him, and then leave him to bleed to death? And even if Jose Guerena was a criminal (and there’s no proof that he was), does that mean he deserved to die? Without a trial, and under the gaze of his wife and son, no less?
In this instance, one can’t help but think authorities treated the Guerena family worse than criminals, rather than treating them like people—a dying father, a wife mourning the loss of her husband, and a son traumatized by his own father’s death. Which should make you think: where’s the line between righteously enforcing the law to protect society and enforcing it so aggressively that you forget your suspects are fellow human beings?
How are we as Christians called to respond when that line is crossed? Should we demand justice for Jose Guerena’s death, extend forgiveness to the officers who perhaps realize now that they made a terrible mistake, or both? And how can we heal the rift that’s grown between law enforcement and minority communities?
In the end, it’s kids who ask the toughest questions. Reyna Ortiz, a relative looking after Vanessa Guerena and her children, told ABC News that Jose Guerena’s 4-year-old son Joel is asking, “Why did the police kill my daddy?”
Though MLK’s “Dream” continues to inspire us, for millions of Americans it’s still a dream deferred. Nevertheless, we hang on to its truth.
In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Black History Month is one of the times of year that we, as Americans, ask ourselves how close are we to achieving this ideal espoused by Dr. King. How are we doing? Do we live in a country that has transcended the brutally ugly — and often violent — racism that has in many ways defined our country during much of its history?
It is tempting to answer “yes,” and to highlight, as evidence, many of the achievements and gains over the last several decades, including the election of that “skinny kid with a funny name” to the White House. Yet the sad reality remains that even more than 45 years after Dr. King’s speech, far too many people living in this country are still defined not by their character or abilities, but by their racial and ethnic background.
A few recent statistics tell the story:
• A 2009 study found that 32 percent of Latinos said that they, a family member, or a close friend was discriminated against in the past five years because of their racial or ethnic background. With the passage of Arizona’s new immigration law, SB 1070, and similar measures, that number has likely increased in recent months.
• A 2005 Gallup poll revealed that 31 percent of Asian Americans and 26 percent of blacks reported experiencing an incident of discrimination while at work during the previous 12 months.
• One national survey reported that a majority of Latinos do not have confidence that they will be treated fairly by police officers. That same survey found that nearly two-thirds of blacks (as opposed to approximately one-quarter of whites) do not believe that local police officers treat blacks and whites equally.
• Recent unemployment rates strongly indicate that the color of people’s skin still plays a role in the job market. In the fall of 2010, when the unemployment rate was 8.7 percent for whites, it was 12.4 percent for Latinos, and 16.1 percent for blacks. A recent study found that nearly 40 percent of previously employed black New Yorkers were unemployed for more than a year during the recession. That same number is 24 percent for whites.
These discomforting statistics should not cause us to lose faith in the ideal that Dr. King espoused on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial decades ago. Rather, they should serve as a reminder that despite the progress that has been made, Dr. King’s dream has not yet been realized for millions of Americans. They also should serve as a challenge: that we use events like Black History Month and last month’s MLK Day not merely to reflect on the achievements of a race of people and their slain hero, but that we also take them as an opportunity to address the inequalities and discriminations that still permeate our society.
And that is a challenge that people of faith are particularly capable of meeting. After all, it was Dr. King’s faith that gave him the courage to stand in the face of deeply entrenched racism and demand justice. It was faith that allowed individuals like Fannie Lou Hamer to persevere when all outward signs probably told them to stop. It was faith that allowed King, Hamer, and others to understand the essential truth that while “we must accept finite disappointment,” we must “never lose infinite hope.”
This article originally appeared at the God’s Politics blog of Sojourners.