ACLU Fights Restrictive, Unconstitutional Arizona Law in Court

Wednesday, 19 May 2010 12:45 By Yana Kunichoff, t r u t h o u t | Report | name.

ACLU Fights Restrictive, Unconstitutional Arizona Law in Court
(Photo: jkarsh / Flickr)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a coalition of civil rights groups are tackling Arizona's restrictive immigration law head-on; they filed a class action lawsuit Monday to challenge the new law, which requires police to demand "papers" from people suspected of being in the United States without proper documentation.

"Arizona's law is quintessentially un-American: we are not a 'show me your papers' country, nor one that believes in subjecting people to harassment, investigation and arrest simply because others may perceive them as foreign," said Omar Jadwat, a staff attorney on the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "This law violates the Constitution and interferes with federal law, and we are confident that we will prevent it from ever taking effect."

The complaints being brought against the state in the US District Court for the District of Arizona charge that the law interferes with federal power and authority over immigration matters in violation of the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, infringes on the right to free speech by day laborers and invites racial profiling by law enforcement in violation of the equal protection guarantee and prohibition on unreasonable seizures under the 14th and Fourth Amendments.

The case is being fought on behalf of plaintiffs like Jim Shee, a 70-year-old American citizen of Spanish and Chinese descent. Shee, who was born in America, said that, although the law has not yet gone into effect, he has already been stopped twice by local law enforcement in Arizona and told to produce his "papers" or documentation of legal immigration status.

Jesus Cuauhtemoc Villa, a resident of New Mexico currently attending Arizona State University, worries about traveling in Arizona without a valid form of identification that would prove his citizenship to police if he is pulled over. In New Mexico, proof of US citizenship or immigration status is not required to obtain a driver's license, and Villa does not have a US passport. He does not want to run the risk of losing his birth certificate by carrying it with him as proof of citizenship, but fears Arizona law enforcement could be required to arrest and detain him if he cannot supply proof of his citizenship on demand.

The coalition filing the lawsuit includes groups as diverse as the ACLU, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC).

The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, along with several other prominent law enforcement groups, also oppose the legislation because they say it diverts attention from the primary responsibility of law enforcement - to provide protection and promote public safety in the community - and undermines trust in local police within immigrant communities.

The law in Arizona also places increased pressure on police forces by allowing private citizens to sue police officers if they feel the officer is not doing his duty in upholding immigration law.

"This ill-conceived law sends a clear message to communities of color that the authorities are not to be trusted, making them less likely to come forward as victims of or witnesses to crime," said Linton Joaquin, general counsel of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). "Arizona's authorities should not allow public safety to take a back seat to racial profiling."

In Utah in 2009, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank's department opted not to enforce a similar law after it went into effect, saying it lead to de facto racial profiling.

Though the legislation is believed to be targeting people of Hispanic descent, Arizona's historical noncompliance with other inclusive movements, such as its reluctance to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, and the push to stand behind minority populations have brought many groups together in the fight against SB 1070, the new immigration law.

"African-Americans know all too well the insidious effects of racial profiling," said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP. "The government should be preventing police from investigating and detaining people based on color and accent, not mandating it. Laws that encourage discrimination have no place in this country anywhere for anyone."

Julie Su, litigation director of the APALC, said, "in a state where US citizens of Japanese descent were interned during World War II, it is deeply troubling that a law that would mandate lower-class treatment of people of color, immigrants and others seen to be outsiders would pass in 2010."

"This extreme law puts Arizona completely out of step with American values of fairness and equality," Su went on to say.

Most recently, in the escalating backlash against the restrictive immigration laws, three undocumented student activists were detained after a sit-in at Sen. John McCain's office to call for passing of the DREAM Act, legislation designed to build a path toward legalization for undocumented residents brought to the United States as minors. The students, who are all in their mid-20s and were brought to the United States as minors, are expected to enter deportation proceedings.

Even prior to the passage of this law, rampant racial profiling of Latinos to enforce federal immigration law was already underway in Arizona, largely in the notorious Maricopa County district of Joe Arpaio. The ACLU, MALDEF, and other members of the coalition already have several pending lawsuits in Arizona against government officials for civil rights abuses of immigrants and US citizens.

Victor Viramontes, MALDEF senior national counsel, said he hopes the Arizona law will be enjoined before it takes effect: "This discriminatory law pushes Arizona into a spiral of fear, increased crime and costly litigation."

Yana Kunichoff

Yana Kunichoff is an assistant editor at Truthout.

Last modified on Wednesday, 19 May 2010 14:51